AR   2018-10-18
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2018 October 18

Long Kiss Goodbye

The Guardian

Last night, EU leaders dined on pan-fried mushrooms, fillet of turbot cooked in wheat beer, and a trio of fruit sorbets. They discussed their next steps on Brexit following a 15-minute meeting with Theresa May, who was not invited to dinner.

May spoke about the courage, trust, and leadership needed to reach agreement. She expressed a willingness to extend the transition period beyond 2020. EU officials said the diners did not think it enough to warrant a further summit in November.

Visiting Venus

Gareth Dorrian, Ian Whittaker

NASA is working on an astronaut mission to Venus: the High Altitude Venus Operational Concept — HAVOC.

NASA plans to use the dense Venusian atmosphere as a base for exploration. No date for a HAVOC mission has yet been announced: NASA first needs to notch up a few successful test missions. The mission is based on existing technology, using airships that can float in the upper atmosphere for long periods of time.

The upper atmosphere of Venus is the most Earth-like location in the solar system. Between altitudes of 50 km and 60 km, the pressure and temperature are comparable to regions of the Earth's lower atmosphere. The atmospheric pressure in the Venusian atmosphere at 55 km is about 0.5 bar, with a temperature between 20 C and 30 C, dense enough to protect you from hard solar radiation, but with enough sunlight for solar power (about 1.4 times more than on Earth).

The airship will float around the planet, blown by the wind. It could be filled with a breathable gas mixture such as oxygen and nitrogen for buoyancy. Breathable air is less dense than the Venusian atmosphere, which consists of 97% carbon dioxide and about 3% nitrogen.

Trace amounts of sulfuric acid form dense clouds that make Venus look bright viewed from Earth. The cloud layer is between 45 km and 65 km, with the acid haze extending down to about 30 km.

The airship will need to be resistant to acid corrosion. Several commercially available materials, including teflon and a number of plastics, have a high acid resistance and can be used for the outer envelope of the airship.

Some extremophile organisms on Earth could withstand the conditions in the upper atmosphere. HAVOC could search for possible Venusian life.

The Venusian climate is the result of a runaway greenhouse effect. It will hold lessons for us.

AR See blog 2017-11-14, 2015-08-31, 2014-12-23.

2018 October 17

Adapting to a Warming Planet

New Scientist

The Global Commission on Adaptation says we must not only try to limit further global warming but also do far more to ensure we survive it. The impact of global warming is already being felt much sooner and more powerfully than expected. To keep reducing global poverty and to maintain economic growth, societies must do much more, much faster, to adapt.

Commissioner and former UN head Ban Ki-moon: "Adaptation action is not only the right action to do, it is the smart thing. We need to make this case more aggressively. The costs of adapting are less than the cost of doing business as usual. And the benefits many times larger."

Commissioner and World Bank CEO Kristalina Georgieva: "A very significant opportunity for adaptation comes from mainstreaming resilience in the normal investments we make."


European Parliament

EU citizens were asked about their country's membership in the EU: on average, 62% of respondents believe it is a good thing and 68% consider that their country has benefited from its EU membership. Today, 66% of Europeans would vote for their country to remain in the EU, 17% would vote to leave, and 17% are undecided.

As for the direction things are taking in the EU, 50% say things in the EU are going in the wrong direction, 52% say their own country is taking the wrong direction, 33% say things are going in the right direction in their country, and 28% say the same for the EU.

As for the EP, 32% hold a positive view of the EP, 43% remain neutral, and 21% have a negative view. As for whether they would like to see a stronger role for the EP in the future, 48% would like a stronger role, 27% would prefer a weaker role, and 15% see no need for a change.

Europeans confirm their broad support for the euro: on average across the EU, 61% of respondents are in favor of the euro, with 77% inside the EZ and lower levels in countries outside the EZ.

Asked about the most important issues for the EP to tackle, 50% cite immigration, 47% the economy and growth, and 44% terrorism. Behind the EU averages, opinions in member states vary.

The Neoliberal Con Trick

Aditya Chakrabortty

The IMF published a report last week that totted up the public debt and assets of 31 countries and found the UK has among the weakest public finances of the lot.

The UK is in this sorry state because Margaret Thatcher deregulated finance and used North Sea oil revenues to pay for big tax cuts. The result is a finance-heavy economy and a government £1 trillion worse off since the banking crash. British governments have privatised nearly all public assets, often at giveaway prices, to friends in the City.

British governments have been asset-stripping the public sector for decades. This has enriched a select few. Instead of competitive utilities and sounder public finances, we have natural monopolies handed over to the wealthy, banks that dump their liabilities on the public, and an outsourcing industry that feasts upon the public purse.

The IMF defines the ideology of the small state as neoliberalism. That ideology has failed to deliver. It has ripped you off and robbed you blind.





Sir Robert Syms, MP for Poole, briefs local Conservative party members on Brexit at the Parkstone Yacht Club last Friday

Mahatma Gandhi
by Pankaj Mishra

Kein Islam
Michael Sohn
Fortress Europe
will impact Britain,
Brexit or no Brexit

Final say

Landtagswahl Bayern
Provisional results

Party Vote % Seats
CSU 37.2 85
Grünen 17.5 38
Freie W. 11.6 27
AfD 10.2 22
SPD 9.7 22
FDP 5.1 11
Other 8.7 0

Mit uns
Go Green in Germany

Brexit Hell
The Times

Soyuz launch
Soyuz MS10, Baikonur

hairy black hole hairy black hole


2018 October 16

Brexit Latest

1504 UCT
European council president Donald Tusk: "We need something very creative .. maybe we need a new method of thinking."

1352 UCT
Theresa May: "If we as a government stand together and stand firm, we can achieve this."

Last Supper
Theresa May will address EU leaders Wednesday night before an EU27 dinner in an attempt to patch up differences over the Irish border.
Bundesregierung Europa-Minister Michael Roth: "Take responsibility and be constructive."

EU leaders have scrapped plans to discuss and publish a draft declaration this week on a future EU trade deal with the UK.


Rachel Sylvester

Theresa May is hemmed in. A government minister: "She's in a situation where every move she makes worsens the national predicament. We still basically have no agreed government position. It's absurd. If you were playing computer chess the only way out of this would be to press the reset button."

Another minister: "The Conservative party has taken leave of its senses .. The country is being held hostage by petty politicians pushing their own fortunes."

By refusing to change course, Theresa May has only shown weakness. Her strategy seems to be to leave everything until the last minute, whip up hostility to the EU as an external adversary, and hope that she can cobble together a deal that parliament supports for fear of something worse.

Another minister: "This is such a global shambles. We are a laughing stock on the world stage ..
I feel we have just got to start with a totally clean slate."

AR Only "darkest before dawn" magical thinking is keeping this show on the road. The obvious — and completely reasonable — solution is to withdraw Article 50 and stay in the EU. The only loss would be to British pride, which is a relic of times gone by that Brits need to downsize before the world of hard knocks does it for them.


The Guardian

Across Europe, the populist parties seem to be having their moment. Their most obvious feature is hostility to outsiders. They produce a sense of belonging by combining religion and nationalism to create communities.

In a world where loneliness is a problem and where the global economy works heedless of the suffering of individuals, community and belonging seem to be enduring stores of worth. Communities are for life, and the belonging they offer is awarded on grounds that have nothing to do with merit. Populist parties deny community rights to others.

AR The Guardian is too gently liberal to press the painful point. Identity politics is the last stand of the downtrodden who have nothing more to give in an age of huge and terrifying threats such as climate change, the rise of the robots, Chinese economic competition, Islamic demographic competition, and the meritocracy of richer and smarter people.


Melanie Phillips

Western democracy is under threat from identity politics and populism. The new parties are rooted in identity issues based on race, ethnicity, or religion. They close minds against evidence in a culture war that brooks no deviation.

Belief in democracy entails understanding that sometimes you will be outvoted by those with contrary views. Yet a Remainer faction is campaigning for a second referendum. It used to be that those who lose a vote would abide by the outcome. For some Remainers, we must vote again and again until the people deliver the result they want.

AR In general elections, we vote again and again, every five years at least, in the vain hope that we might one day get good governance. As for Brexit, the facts upon which the people can vote have so changed in the last two-plus years that it would be churlish to deny the need for a refresher vote. Democracy is not one man, one vote, one time.

2018 October 15

Brexit: May Out Of Moves

Laura Kuenssberg

Theresa May's Conservative party won't accept a proposal to keep the UK essentially in the customs union. Parliament is likely to block no deal. The EU won't accept her Chequers plan.

A loyal minister: "She is like a chess player who only has the king left — all she can do is move one square at a time until she is checkmated."

"The EU are treating us with naked contempt — we must abandon this surrender of our country."
Boris Johnson

AR Abandon Brexit.

Bavaria: Maximal Uncertainty

Der Spiegel

The ruling CSU were the big losers in the Bavarian state elections. They lost over 10% of their votes and thus their absolute majority in the state parliament. The SPD lost big too, with over 10% of their votes gone. The AfD won over 10% of the vote and the Greens increased their vote by almost 9%. The Greens are now the second biggest party, ahead of the SPD.

New Headaches in Berlin

Leopold Traugott

Recent national polls see the parties of the "GroKo" grand coalition down at just 41% together, compared to 53% still in September 2017, and 67% in 2013. All three parties — CDU, CSU, SPD — urgently need to reconsider their strategy.

The CSU may dump party leader and German interior minister Horst Seehofer. The party needs to reconsider its current approach of copying AfD hardline positions. The SPD must consider whether the coalition makes sense for them as it bleeds voters in all directions.

The Greens doubled their votes in Bavaria. They are riding high in national polls. But the AfD is the largest opposition party in the Bundesrat.

German political fragmentation is continuing at pace.

AR Good for the Greens at least.

2018 October 14

High Voter Turnout in Bavaria

Der Spiegel

Voter turnout in local elections in Bavaria was over 40% by midday. The CSU is expected to lose its overall majority. The AfD and the Greens are expected to gain seats.

Possible coalitions
 CSU-Freie Wähler

AR Vote Green and save the Earth!

DUP Warns No Deal Brexit Likely

Mail on Sunday

DUP leader Arlene Foster is braced for negotiations to collapse after a furious row with EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier in Brussels.

Barnier says a deal must include a backstop to keep Northern Ireland within EU jurisdiction. The DUP will not let Northern Ireland be treated any differently from the rest of the UK. Theresa May relies on the DUP MPs in Westminster to support her government, so she may propose a new backstop that keeps the whole of the UK in the EU customs union indefinitely.

Foster described Barnier as "difficult and hostile" and said the DUP is ready to block a Brexit deal.

Brexit Bollocks

David Davis

Brexit panic has started on the Continent.

The government is proposing that the entire UK should stay within the EU customs union until the Northern Ireland border issue is resolved. Extending the Brexit implementation period has all the drawbacks of staying within the customs union, plus several more. It is completely unacceptable.

Keeping Northern Ireland inside the single market would mean having a border in the Irish Sea for goods and people. This is completely unacceptable to the DUP and to many people in the UK.

The negotiation currently focuses on the withdrawal agreement, pushing to one side our future economic relationship as something to be resolved after March 2019. By then we will have pledged to give £39 billion to the EU. This is by far our biggest bargaining chip.

The Chequers plan should be dead. The commission has rejected it. The public does not like it. Parliament will not vote for it. It is time that the prime minister reset the negotiations.

Now is the time when we can start to exact concessions from the EU. German companies will lose about a third of their car sales and two-thirds of their dairy sales to the UK if we went to standard WTO import tariffs. Ireland's agricultural sector would face enormous risks. Belgium and the Netherlands will each face a hit worth 3%−4% of their GDP.

Now we must drive a hard bargain.

AR Davis has gone completely nuts.

Malala @ Oxford

Mirror on Sunday

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, who is reading PPE at Oxford, has joined the Port and Policy group run by Oxford University Conservative Association. Jacob Rees-Mogg is its honorary president and former members include Theresa May and Margaret Thatcher.

The weekly forum has been rocked by controversy after sozzled members reportedly knocked back 43 shots of port each at a party and bellowed "my castle is bigger than yours" and "I'll buy their families" when refused more booze.

AR I'm glad I didn't join the Oafs @ Oxford!

2018 October 13

Brexit KOs Global Order

Ian Bremmer

It does the "special relationship" between the US and Europe no favors. Differences over Russia, NATO funding, and Mideast policy strain US-EU relations. Brexit undermines the transatlantic alliance because it diverts Brussels from working with Washington.

It will weaken the UK too. It will need its partnership with the US more than ever, especially as London's standing as a global banking center diminishes. President Trump, who will have a lot more negotiating leverage with the UK for a one-on-one trade deal.

It makes the UK look isolated. Britain accounts for 13.6% of Chinese trade with the EU. Given tensions with Trump, China wants less political drama, not more, in its global trade negotiations. China will be cautious about commercial commitments with the UK.

It comes at a bad time in regard to Russia, with Trump well disposed toward Russia and Europe pragmatic due to military weakness and energy concerns. The UK can become a world power in its own right, but it will begin doing so in a volatile geopolitical environment.

It will not immediately threaten the EU. The hot mess in British politics has dampened enthusiasm in other EU countries for an exit. But a weaker EU will lose luster on the global stage. France and Germany will go for deeper EZ integration but meet resistance.

It will slow the trade integration that has lifted hundreds of millions from poverty around the world. It will be the biggest win to date for country-first populism. It will further fragment the global political system and generate greater friction in global markets.

Soyuz KOs Space Station

New Scientist

US astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin survived the crash landing of the Soyuz MS10 capsule. But the International Space Station might not survive. The docked Soyuz at the ISS is the now only way for the three astronauts there to return to Earth.

The Soyuz launch system might be grounded for a long time. NASA retired the space shuttle in 2011 and a new US spacecraft may not be ready until 2020. China is now the only country with a working craft capable of taking humans to space.

The Chinese Shenzhou craft could theoretically dock with the ISS, but such a mission would be extraordinary. So the ISS may be empty for the first time since 2000. That could doom it.

AR A Chinese rescue recalls the movies Gravity and The Martian.

2018 October 12

Against Nationalism

Seyla Benhabib

Immanuel Kant critiqued pure reason to make room for freedom and morality. He said only
     a critical exercise of reason can save us from false beliefs.
 G.W.F. Hegel unfolded an immanent critique in a dialectic of thought that ended when
     thought and actuality were reconciled.
 Georg Lukács introduced a concept of praxis. We are historical subjects who express our
     freedom by transforming the world through activity.
 Max Horkheimer developed a critical theory of society. Human mastery over nature came at
     the expense of internal repression. Critical theory is a theory of crises.
 Michel Foucault said society is constituted by a discontinuous and fragmentary series of
     power-knowledge configurations, full of displacements and erasures.
 Jacques Derrida said the silences and gaps of a text are indices of the repressed subjectivity
     of others. Deconstruction thus has an ethical core.
 Jürgen Habermas said economic and political crises disrupt our sense of shared meaning.
     His theory of communicative action bid farewell to the myth of a unified working class.

My work aims to overcome sociological nationalism. The boundaries of the demos have not been
formed democratically. The nation is a privileged collective identity. Democracy has a bounded collective subject, but liberalism is cosmopolitan. Liberal democracy is an oxymoron.

2018 October 11

Black Hole Entropy and Soft Hair

Sasha Haco, Stephen W. Hawking, Malcolm J. Perry, Andrew Strominger (2018)

Given the conjecture that the entropy of black holes can be understood in a manner similar to their stringy counterparts, we argue that the black hole Hilbert space must be contained within the Hilbert space of states outside the black hole. So there are no independent interior black hole microstates at all! This solves the information paradox.

Soft Hair on Black Holes

Stephen W. Hawking, Malcolm J. Perry, Andrew Strominger (2016)

Conservation laws require black holes to carry a large amount of soft hair. This paper gives an explicit description of soft hair in terms of soft gravitons or photons on the black hole horizon, and shows that complete information about their quantum state is stored on a holographic plate at the future boundary of the horizon. Soft hair gives an effective number of soft degrees of freedom proportional to the horizon area in Planck units.

AR I think Frank Wilczek would call soft hair a quantum atmosphere.


Dad's Army


2018 October 10


Andy Ross

President Vladimir Putin of Russia has won a stunning victory over the American superpower that defeated the former Soviet Union ..

President Donald Trump of the United States owes his extraordinary propulsion into the White House, in all probability, to his longtime "friend" and hero Vladimir Putin ..

The rise of Trump in America may look less like a classic transition to tyranny than a very modern transition to chaos .. no one expected the new U.S. president to be so entangled by his past dealings in Russia and with Russians ..

PDF, 10 pages, 130 KB



UK public finances are among the weakest in the world. Since the 2008 financial crash, almost £1 trillion has been wiped off the wealth of the UK public sector.

The IMF performed a health check on the wealth of 31 nations to judge how well governments are prepared for economic shocks. Norway came top, thanks to its war chest built on its publicly held oil wealth. The UK was in 30th position and Portugal came bottom.

AR Sad

2018 October 9

Climate Change Denial: 5 Stages

The Guardian

1 Deny the problem exists
2 Deny we're the cause
3 Deny it's a problem
4 Deny we can solve it
5 It's too late

The Trump administration is at stage 5.

Trump Coal

The New York Times

Continued emissions of greenhouse gases will bring dire and irreversible changes by 2040.

President Trump continues to praise coal. He has directed his EPA to reverse the Obama administration steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants. The Trump plan would cause as many as 1,400 premature deaths annually by 2030, as well as 15,000 new cases of upper respiratory disease and billions of dollars in new health care costs.

The EPA plans to dissolve its Office of the Science Advisor.

Dad's Army Brexit: Don't Panic!

Anne Perkins

UK attorney general Geoffrey Cox cheered a Conservative party conference audience by quoting John Milton:

"Methinks I see in my mind a noble and puissant Nation rousing herself like a strong man after sleep, and shaking her invincible locks: Methinks I see her as an Eagle mewing her mighty youth, and kindling her undazl'd eyes at the full midday beam."

UKTV plans to remake the three lost episodes of Dad's Army. Repeats of the TV series, which ran from 1968 to 1977, still top the BBC Two ratings. How nice to know that it was Dunkirk spirit and British genius that won the war, to know that Britain is best when she stands alone.

Millennials don't think like that at all.

Quantum Verification Problem Solved

Erica Klarreich

Urmila Mahadev has just solved a major problem in quantum computation: If you ask a quantum computer to perform a computation for you, how can you know whether it has really followed your instructions, or even done anything quantum at all?

If you distrust an ordinary computer, you can in theory check its computations for yourself. But quantum systems resist this kind of checking. Their inner state is generally a superposition, which as soon as you measure it collapses into a classical state.

Mahadev, 28, has come up with an interactive protocol by which users can be certain that a quantum computer is doing what they want. She presented it at the 2018 Symposium on Foundations of Computer Science and was awarded the best paper and best student paper prizes.

A quantum computer can prove its computations to a verifier that measures single qubits. Mahadev used post-quantum cryptography to get a quantum computer to build a secret state whose description is known to the classical verifier, but not to the quantum computer itself. This relies on a trapdoor function that is easy to carry out but hard to reverse without the secret key.

Then you can get a quantum computer to create a secret state as follows:
1 Ask the computer to build a superposition of all the possible inputs to the function.
2 Tell the computer to apply the function to the superposition to create a superposition of all the
    possible outputs. The input and output superpositions are entangled.
3 Ask the computer to measure the output state and tell you the result. The input state collapses
    to match it, since they are entangled.

The trapdoor function's secret key reveals the two states that make up the input superposition. Mahadev built it using a type of cryptography called Learning With Errors (LWE) to create a quantum version of blind computation, by which cloud-computing users can mask their data so the cloud computer can't read it while working on it.

Mahadev's protocol requires the quantum computer to create a secret state and entangle it with the state it aims to measure. The quantum computer doesn't know the secret state but the verifier does, so the quantum computer can't cheat. If the result looks correct, the verifier can be sure it is.

The protocol presumes that quantum computers cannot crack LWE. At present, LWE is a leading candidate for post-quantum cryptography. It may soon be adopted as the new NIST standard.

The protocol is unlikely to be implemented soon in a real quantum computer as it requires too much computing power. Scott Aaronson: "It is something you could start thinking about, if all goes well, at the next stage of the evolution of quantum computers."

AR Nice!


Shrinkage of sea ice in the Arctic

"A tremendous victory
for our nation"

Judge Kavanaugh

QE2 coronation
Queen Elizabeth II coronation
Westminster Abbey, 1953
Since the Harold II coronation
in 1066, every monarch bar
two has been crowned in
Westminster Abbey.

Bin Brexit

Bollocks to Brexit

Joan Williams
Queen Elizabeth II,
Prince Charles

in person

Theresa May
The Times
May: "Our future is in our hands"

"There are one or two
things that Boris said
that I'm cross about"
Theresa May

"Artificial Intelligence ..
has the potential to have a
bigger impact than almost
any technology yet invented
.. I'm optimistic that .. we
can make a success of it."
Rt Hon Matt Hancock MP 
The Future of Work

National Geographic

People's Vote


2018 October 8

Urgent: Cut Global Warming to 1.5 K

UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

Governments around the world must take rapid, far-reaching, and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society to avoid disastrous levels of global warming.

Temperatures will reach 1.5 K above pre-industrial levels by 2030, based on current levels of greenhouse gas emissions, precipitating higher risk of extreme drought, wildfires, floods, and food shortages around the planet.

Global net emissions of CO2 must fall by 45% from 2010 levels by 2030 and reach "net zero" by 2050.

UK Versus Russia

The Times

UK defence chiefs have war-gamed a massive cyber-strike to black out Moscow if Russia launches a military attack on the West. Their only other way to meet Kremlin aggression was to fire a Trident nuclear missile. They were left "ashen-faced" at how fast a confrontation could escalate.

US Army Builds Robot Attack Tanks
Fox News

The US Army is engineering autonomy kits to give robot tanks and other armored combat vehicles an ability to operate with little or no human intervention, bringing new tactical and operational dimensions to the future of ground combat.

AR Russia could build self-driving and remote control technology into its Armata main battle tanks. An army of robotanks could roll over Europe in days. The European response could include Tiger antitank helicopter drones coordinated by Galileo and NATO C4I systems.

Civilian casualties could be reduced by coding humanitarian ethics into the robots. This scenario could easily burn a few trillion dollars and maintain full employment well into the age of robot automation. But it would not be carbon neutral, so no go.

2018 October 7


Doris Kearns Goodwin

Abraham Lincoln spent a lot of time at the theater to reduce his anxiety during the civil war. Theodore Roosevelt exercised two hours every day in the afternoon. Franklin Delano Roosevelt had a cocktail party every night during World War 2.

Lyndon Baines Johnson could never unwind. He wanted to be remembered for civil rights. When he talked about Vietnam his mood would plunge. He talked about his regret that the war had turned out badly and taken away the energy of the things he really cared about.

What made all four of these guys great leaders is they were seeking not celebrity but fame, and fame means creating something lasting that stands the test of time.

Donald Trump doesn't have the temperament to be a leader. Compared to Teddy Roosevelt, who had a square deal for the rich and the poor, the capitalist and the wage worker, Trump says that a deal that says both sides win is just a bunch of crap and all that matters is that you win.

Teddy became as much of a folk hero as Trump has become. He was known for his blistering language and short punchy statements: speak softly and carry a big stick, don't hit until you have to and then hit hard. He established a rapport with the people.

Leadership in Turbulent Times

Church and State

Harriet Sherwood

One day, in an Anglican service, King Charles III will be anointed with holy oil by the Archbishop of Canterbury, conferring God's grace on the new head of state.
    Archbishop: "Will you, to the utmost of your power, maintain in the United Kingdom ..
      the settlement of the Church of England?"
    Charles: "All this I promise to do."

The UK is the only country in Europe to retain a religious ceremony to crown a new monarch. Yet the proportion of the UK population identifying as Anglican has fallen to a record low of 14%. Among adults under the age of 24, it is 2%. A majority of the population say they have no religion.

The UK establishment confers a dual role on the monarch as head of state and head of the Church of England. In the House of Lords, 26 seats are reserved for Anglican bishops. Church laws are approved by parliament and every inch of England is divided into parishes. The law requires every state school to hold a Christian act of daily worship.

Anglican priest Giles Fraser: "We've been turned into flunkies of the establishment, seduced by pomp and circumstance. Disestablishment would require the C of E to reinvent itself."

Former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams: "I'm not interested in a halfway house. If we want a republic, let's have a republic. If we want a monarchy, then we have to accept that a monarchy is in some ways a profoundly symbolic thing."

2018 October 6

Imaging Our Black Hole

Seth Fletcher

At the heart of our galaxy, about 26,000 light-years inbound from Earth, Sagittarius B2 is a cloud of organic molecules. Another 390 light-years or so takes you to the inner parsec, where tubes of frozen lightning called cosmic filaments streak the sky and gravity becomes a foaming sea of riptides, space becomes a bath of radiation, and atoms dissolve into a fog of particles. Here is the supermassive black hole at the core of the Milky Way: Sagittarius A*.

Last year, astronomers made the inaugural run of the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT), designed to take the first picture of a black hole. The EHT uses very long baseline interferometry (VLBI) and combines the collected data on a supercomputer. EHT director Shep Doeleman calls it the biggest telescope in the history of humanity.

A black hole is made of gravity. Its boundary, the event horizon, is a one-way exit from the universe. If a black hole passes in front of a bright background, we should see its silhouette. An Earth-size collection of radio telescopes observing Sagittarius A* in the microwave spectrum would see a dark disk ten times larger than the event horizon, with bright rays tracing a glowing ring around it.

A close look at a black hole can help us study the origins and fates of stars and galaxies. Galaxies and their central black holes seem to evolve together. When the black hole settles down, the next generation of stars can form. How and why these things happen is still a mystery.

General relativity describes the universe on the largest scales. Quantum theory governs the subatomic world. But general relativity and quantum theory describe worlds that look nothing like each other. Black holes can test them. If the EHT results failed to match predictions, they would provide clues for a theory of quantum gravity.

In June 2018, astronomers released the final Sagittarius A* and M87 data from the EHT. In the next few months, they will finish their analysis and publish their results.

AR This is truly exciting!

EU Drafts No Deal Plan

Financial Times

Brussels will next week unveil contingency measures for Brexit that could force flight cancellations and leave exporters facing massive disruption in case no deal is reached by next March.

The EU plans no special arrangements for customs or road transport and only limited provisions for financial services. The EU will not relax customs and agricultural controls and urges member states to enforce EU import rules from the first day of Brexit.

The UK and the EU must reach a deal by 17 October.

Juncker Speaks

Daniel Boffey

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker says there must be limits to the freedom of the press and accuses British media of trampling over the human rights of politicians.

On the 2016 Brexit referendum: "If the commission intervened, perhaps the right questions would have entered the debate. Now you discover new problems almost daily, on both sides. At that time, it was already clear to us what trials and tribulations this pitiful vote of the British would lead to .. The British press .. do not respect the human rights of political actors at all. Press freedom also has its limits .. One should not bring people in privacy in distress."

On the EU summit on 17 October: "I assume that we find an agreement as to the terms of the withdrawal. We also need to agree on a political statement that accompanies this withdrawal agreement. We are not that far yet."

AR Queen Elizabeth II is consubstantial with the United Kingdom in the same sense that Jesus Christ is consubstantial with God. Her Majesty holds audience with the prime minister of her government in weekly meetings, where Theresa May receives instruction on the issues of the day. Is it not high time Her Majesty paid due respect to her subjects by making known her views on Brexit?

2018 October 5

Brexiteers Misunderstand the EU

Martin Wolf

UK foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt had a reputation for sobriety. His parallel between the EU and the Soviet Union was stupid and offensive. The EU had merely said the Chequers plan will not work.

Understanding the EU is is a necessary condition for dealing with it sensibly. For the EU leaders, the survival of the EU is an existential issue. Relations with a departing UK are relatively insignificant.

The EU is a peace project, built on hope for a prosperous, integrated Europe able to speak up in the world. For Brexiteers to despise these goals or hope the EU will collapse into chaos is malevolent.

The EU works by embedding mutual relations in a framework of rules. The trust necessary to make it work depends on this. The rules need to be clear and subject to an authoritative legal process.

One EU red line is that preserving peace on the island of Ireland is more important than the UK wish list. The myth that EU obduracy snatched a glorious Brexit from the British people is poisonous.


Simon Kuper

Brino — The most likely outcome is Brexit in name only or a very soft Brexit.

Hard — Many Brexiteers would love it hard: a return to an imagined 1940, minus Luftwaffe bombs. Recent polls show about a third of Britons back no deal.

Remain — If parliament votes for a second referendum, even though neither party leadership wants it, a narrow Remain victory would merely show that hard Brexit is not the "will of the people" and needs massive toning down.

Blame — If the EU lets the UK stay, Brexiteers will forever afterwards blame every British problem on what they see the illegal decision to remain. Few EU officials want Britain back now, anyway. Trust has evaporated, with successive UK foreign secretaries comparing the EU to Hitler or the USSR, and ministers hinting they could weasel on agreements with Brussels.

Unionism Is Dead

Gareth Brown

A majority of Leave voters would be happy for the UK to crumble if it delivered Brexit. The lack of a compelling message as to the point of the UK has weakened the concept of unionism at a time when the prime minister is trying to unite the UK. Perhaps unionism was never alive in middle England.

The value of devolution for the national identities of England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland has not been made clear to most people in England. A more symmetrical design, with a strong message, would have had more chance of fostering UK team spirit.

AR Wind up the whole rotten show.

2018 October 4

US Senate Should Not Confirm Kavanaugh

Signed by 1,000+ Law Professors

At the Senate hearings on September 27, Judge Brett Kavanaugh displayed a lack of judicial temperament that would be disqualifying for any court, and certainly for elevation to the highest court of this land.

Judge Kavanaugh exhibited a lack of commitment to judicious inquiry. Instead of trying to sort out with reason and care the allegations that were raised, he responded in an intemperate, inflammatory and partial manner, as he interrupted and, at times, was discourteous to senators.

We believe he did not display the impartiality and judicial temperament requisite to sit on the highest court of our land.

UK-EU Customs Union

Financial Times

Ireland backs Theresa May's emerging plan for an all-UK customs union with the EU. A senior Irish official: "Whether Europe accept it or not is another conversation."

Brussels sees attempts to keep the UK in a customs union with the EU after Brexit as cherry picking.

Eastern Germany

Anna Sauerbrey

October 3, 1990, was the day the former East and West Germany reunified as one nation. Today, east and west are drifting apart again: Violent crimes committed by right-wing extremists are far more frequent in the five eastern German states than in the west.

Former president of the German parliament Wolfgang Thierse, who once worked briefly at the ministry of culture in the German Democratic Republic, says there is no big divide: eastern Germany has areas of prosperity and innovation beside areas of squalor and despair.

The German government's annual report on the state of the union shows that pensions and wages are rising and unemployment is down, but average income in the former East lags the former West by around 15%. The eastern economy sports some business champions, but has fewer large companies, less international investment, and an older demographic.

The legacy of the German Democratic Republic runs deep: 28 years after German reunification, most prominent journalists, policymakers, and business leaders are westerners. Condescension sneaks in when they discuss why the east is so far to the right.

AR Legacy of Soviet domination — be patient.

2018 October 3


Theresa May

Our future is in our hands .. Solving the housing crisis is the biggest domestic policy challenge of our generation .. We cannot outsource our conscience to the Kremlin.

Leadership is doing what you believe to be right, and having the courage and determination to see it through, and that's what I've been doing on Brexit.

AR An excellent speech.

Trump Sham

The New York Times

The young Donald Trump accepted a modest $1 million loan from his father Fred and through smarts, hard work, and sheer force of will parlayed that loan into a multibillion-dollar global empire.

This origin myth is a fiction. Donald received massive financial rewards from his father, including direct cash gifts and tens of millions in loans that never charged interest or had to be repaid. Fred even put properties and business ventures in the names of his children, who reaped the profits.

Altogether, Donald received upward of what in today's dollars would be $413 million. It seems liberties were taken with tax laws, including greatly understating the value of the family business, with Donald taking an active role in the effort. Tax experts see a pattern of deception.

For Trump, polishing his image has been vital to his success. But the American public has a right to some answers. Time for Trump to hand over his tax returns.

Putin inspires more confidence than Trump
The Atlantic

President Donald Trump is unpopular around the world. A new Pew survey of 26,000 people in 25 countries shows 7 in 10 people have no confidence in Trump. In Germany and France, 9 in 10 have no confidence in him. Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron, Xi Jinping, and Vladimir Putin all inspire more confidence globally than Trump.

A Second Referendum

Daniel Finkelstein

A second Brexit referendum will have to have Remain as an option. The other one will have to be whatever agreement (deal or no deal) the government comes back with.

If Theresa May has a deal, she can win votes of confidence in the Commons. She can threaten Labour that the UK might fall out of the EU chaotically and they will be to blame. Labour MPs will vote for a deal to avoid chaos. Jeremy Corbyn can only stop them by endorsing a second referendum.

A second referendum requires government time to legislate. At present, May is set against it. But if she secures a deal and parliament will not pass it, she has three choices: leaving the EU in chaos, having a general election, or having another referendum.

AR Go on, Theresa, do it.

2018 October 2

Operation Arse

The Guardian

Scottish Conservatives have begun "Operation Arse" to persuade their MPs to vote against Boris Johnson in any forthcoming leadership contest. They also want to convince party members that he would be an electoral disaster.

At conference, Johnson called on his fellow Brexiteers to pile pressure on the prime minister to "chuck Chequers" and revert to her original Lancaster House proposals: "If we bottle Brexit now, believe me, the people of this country will find it hard to forgive. If we get it wrong, if we proceed with this undemocratic solution, if we remain half-in half-out, we will protract this toxic tedious business .. This is not what we voted for. This is an outrage."

The Europe Virus

Rachel Sylvester

As Conservatives seem to embrace their identity as the party of Brexit, their main conference announcements include a Festival of Brexit Britain and a crackdown on immigration. The audience booed the Financial Times for its pro-European views. A former cabinet minister: "The Europe virus has infected the entire political body of the Conservative party and we are in grave danger of being seen by the public as completely bonkers."

Crass and Inflammatory

Oliver Kamm

UK foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt is fully the equal of his predecessor in diplomatic ineptitude: "The lesson from history is clear: if you turn the EU club into a prison the desire to get out won't diminish, it will grow and we won't be the only prisoner that will want to escape."

The EU is a voluntary union of democratic nations, whose pioneers regarded European integration as a means of creating peace. European policymakers underwent danger to life and liberty in order to undermine communism. European Commission president Donald Tusk was an organiser for the Solidarity free trade union movement in Poland.

No EU government wants to punish Britain for wishing to leave. But EU policymakers are unanimous that a Brexit agreement cannot confer on Britain more favourable terms than it enjoys as a member of the EU. The EU has made this clear from the outset.

Nobel Prize for Physics

Natalie Wolchover

The Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded for advances in laser physics to: Arthur Ashkin, Gérard Mourou, and Donna Strickland.

Ashkin developed optical tweezers, which use lasers to trap and control objects as small as individual atoms. His key innovation was discovering that a single laser beam can trap an object in 3D by nudging it in the beam direction to hold it near the focal point.

Mourou developed a way to create extremely short laser pulses by chirped pulse amplification. The method is used in corrective eye surgeries and and have a vast panoply of other uses.

Strickland worked with Mourou on the trick for amplifying a laser pulse by chirping it before amplification and then recompressing it again. She is the first woman to be awarded a Nobel Prize in Physics since 1963.

Nobel Prize for Cancer Immunotherapy


The 2018 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine today goes to James P. Allison and Tasuku Honjo. The pair worked independently on molecular pathways that normally inhibit the immune system. Both are credited with launching cancer immunotherapy into a new era.

Allison studied protein CTLA-4, which suppresses immune responses by T cells. He showed turning off CTLA-4 is effective in humans against melanoma.

Honjo studied protein PD-1, which suppresses T cells in a different way. He showed blocking PD-1 with antibodies can cure several types of cancer.

Today, immune checkpoint therapies based on PD-1 and CTLA-4 stand alongside surgery, radiotherapy, and chemotherapy as cancer treatments.

Screw Spacetime

New Scientist

Powerful laser beams exert a gravitational effect that warps spacetime around them. Photons have energy, hence gravity, and a laser beam has a cylindrical gravitational field around it. Fabienne Schneiter says a spinning laser beam drags the spacetime around it into a corkscrew swirl in which time is slowed down, but the change is too tiny to detect.

AR A big laser drill could bore holes in time!

2018 October 1

Brexit Disaster Warning

Michael Stürmer

Britain after Brexit could become a horror scenario, a downward spiral of impoverishment and political upheavals with effects far beyond the British Isles.

The problem of how to manage the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland is still unsolved. Today, thanks to the EU, there is no problem. But a breakup would rip open old wounds and awaken ghosts.

The UK is drifting helplessly toward a major crisis. The 2016 referendum seemed like an opinion poll to most Britons, hardly a matter of life and death.

The House of Commons is supposed to be in control. Once voters decide an issue, MPs take that as an instruction to the governing party in parliament. Whatever separates MPs, parliamentary elitism prevents them from voting on key issues. A constitution emerges by trial and error.

One can admire the serenity with which the British regard separation from continental Europe. In fact, no one is at the controls. The prime minister presented a sketch for a soft landing at Chequers, which could be a basis for a deal with the EU but is hated by the diehards for that very reason.

A way out in dissolution of parliament and new elections is barred because the issue splits the main parties. So all that remains is to send the result so far back to the people in a new referendum. But there is no time for that — just six months — unless London and Brussels agree to stop the clock.

The drama cannot leave the Federal Republic cold. Germany has a vital interest in the European project. A no deal Brexit could be the beginning of the end.

Cell Jams Shape Embryos

Jordana Cepelewicz

New work shows how a fish embryo develops a long axis for its body. The process is governed by a jamming transition: At the tip of what becomes the tail, cells can flow freely as in a fluid, but closer to the head, they jam together and behave more like a solid.

Materials such as glasses, colloids, and foams get trapped in a state away from equilibrium, neither fully solid nor fluid, so they can flow like fluids or jam up as in a solid.

Researchers injected a droplet of ferromagnetic fluid between the embryo cells and measured its shape as the fish developed to determine the strength of the forces the cells applied against one another. They changed a magnetic field on the droplet to measure the yield stress of the tissue.

Toward the tail end of the embryo, the yield stress was lower than the active cellular forces, and there was more space between the cells, allowing them to move and locally soften the tissue. Closer to the head, the gaps between cells closed off and the yield stresses increased, and the tissue behaved like soap suds or beer froth.

Cells use such phase transitions a lot. Biologists expect to see them in the formation of organs and in cancers.

Brexit Flight

Brexit flight: Spitfire and Hurricane fly over Daring-class destroyer, Bournemouth, September 1

BoJo vs May

Sir Alan Duncan says BoJo
aims to be Britain's Trump

Trump agrees to open
FBI investigation into
accusations against

Kavanaugh, Blasey
The Times/Pool
Kavanaugh, Blasey


2018 September 30

Theresa May Interview

The Sunday Times

On the Conservative conference that starts today:
TM "Conference will look different. You will see a lot more younger people."

On her future as leader:
TM "As I continue to say to people, what I'm doing as prime minister is not about me and my future .. the debate shouldn't be about me, the debate should be about the future of the country."

On the future of the country:
TM "There's a long-term job to do .. we're at a very important and historic moment for the UK. There are real opportunities for the UK outside the European Union."

On a nationwide festival to start in January 2022:
TM "We want to .. celebrate our nation's diversity and talent, and mark this moment of national renewal with a once-in-a-generation celebration."

On the Conservative party:
TM "We're the party that always puts country first and puts the national interest first."

On promoting aspiration:
TM "It comes down to that sense that I've always had of us being a party that wants to ensure that opportunity is there for people to be their best."

On what she has learnt about herself:
TM "I don't really ask myself that question. It's for others who perhaps work with me to comment."

On whether she is better at her job than she was two years ago:
TM "I don't know. I mean, I just .. I suppose I don't .. Again, you see, I just don't think about it in those terms. It is just genuinely that I don't sort of approach things in that sort of way."

On work-life balance:
TM "I try to keep fit .. I try to keep an element of normality in my life."

Boris Johnson Interview

The Sunday Times

On Theresa May:
BJ "The prime minister said she is going to serve for as long as her party wants her, and I certainly think she should."

On the Chequers Brexit plan:
BJ "There will be economic and political damage to the UK .. It surrenders control."

On the plan he backed last December for a Northern Ireland backstop:
BJ "I remember .. being absolutely reassured that this was just a form of words that was necessary to float the negotiations off the rocks."

On his encouraging May back to the path of righteousness:
BJ "I am like a loyal and faithful Labrador that is relentlessly returning to her an object that she has mistakenly chucked away."

On accusations that he is playing politics with Brexit:
BJ "Unlike the prime minister, I campaigned for Brexit .. I believe in it, I think it's the right thing for our country and I think that what is happening now is alas not what people were promised in 2016."

On how to respond to Labour calls for socialism with regulation and market meddling:
BJ "I think we need to make the case for markets .. I believe that the best way to pay for great public services is to have a strong market economy .. we should be proud of being Conservatives."

On the domestic agenda:
BJ "For me, Brexit should be part of a really self-confident and glorious campaign to revitalise the UK economy, invest in infrastructure, invest in housing, invest in skills for young people."

On his support for a bridge between Great Britain and Ireland:
BJ "What we need to do is build a bridge between our islands .. There is so much more we can do."

On the claim by Sir Alan Duncan that he wants to be Britain's Donald Trump:
BJ "That is total cobblers .. total balls, total utter balls."

2018 September 29

BoJo Brexit Plan

Jason Beattie

Boris Johnson calls on the prime minister to chuck her Chequers plan and replace it will a "Super Canada" deal.

BJ "The .. euro .. consigned millions of young people to the misery of unemployment across the Mediterranean .."
 The economies of Greece, Spain, and Italy have struggled, not because of the euro but because of the financial crash. All these countries are now on the road to recovery.

BJ "The .. one size fits all EU model of regulation .. has probably cost about 7% of GDP, .. the EU is a zone of low growth and low innovation, and .. the EU institutions themselves are colossal and extravagant wasters of taxpayers' money."
 The EU economy grew by 2.1% in 2018 Q2. In the UK it grew by 0.4%. The EU contains 28 countries representing 510 million people. The EU Commission employs 33,000 people.

BJ "It was a further symptom of the utter lack of conviction .. that we have effectively agreed to pay £40 billion as an exit fee without any assurances as to the future relationship."
 Britain is legally obliged to pay the divorce bill. If it walks away without paying for outstanding commitments it will be seen as an untrustworthy partner for future trade deals.

BJ "But the single greatest failing has been the .. delay in setting out a vision for what Brexit is."
 Johnson was a cabinet minister until two months ago.

BJ "The net result of two years' negotiation has been to guarantee EU citizens' rights .. to pay over £40 billion for nothing in return; and to negotiate a transition period by which the UK would effectively remain in the EU for another two years .."
 Both the EU and the UK recognise a transition period is essential if trade and goods are continue to flow smoothly.

BJ "If we go ahead with Chequers, we will be exposing the entire UK economy to regulations .. designed .. to make life difficult for UK entrepreneurs and innovators."
 Johnson is hitting out at regulations such as workers' rights and environmental protections.

BJ "Indeed .. the customs aspects of Chequers could only work if Britain drops all pretence of an independent trade policy .."
 Johnson thinks striking independent trade deals will compensate for the loss of access to the single market and the customs union. Trade deals with America, China, India, Australia, the Gulf, and ASEAN would add at most 0.6% to GDP in the long run. This will not compensate for the 5% loss of growth caused by leaving the EU.

BJ "That is why the heart of the new relationship should not be Chequers, but a free trade agreement at least as deep as the one the EU has recently concluded with Canada."
 The EU trade deal with Canada took seven years to complete. A Canada-style deal would leave checks at borders in place to ensure products meet EU standards. Johnson's proposal includes an extensive agreement on services. The EU is unlikely to agree to this.

BJ "The UK .. accepts that the EU will insist on ensuring the integrity of the single market .. but .. they can be carried out away from the border .."
 This is Johnson's solution to the Irish border issue. It relies on the EU trusting a non-member state to carry out customs checks and relies on untested technology.

BJ "First, chuck Chequers .. Then, go back to our EU friends and tell them that the .. Irish backstop arrangement .. is .. no longer acceptable to this country."
 Johnson wants to rip up the whole Brexit timetable.

BJ "The world is watching the UK, and it would be fair to say that our audience has been mystified and dismayed. Our partners around the world want us to take advantage of Brexit."
 The world is mystified and dismayed by the UK, period.

2018 September 28

Brett Kavanaugh vs Christine Blasey Ford

The New York Times

Professor Christine Blasey Ford was calm and dignified. US Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh was volatile and belligerent. She was eager to respond fully to every questioner, he was openly contemptuous of several senators and at some points evasive.

Blasey said that when she was 15 she was sexually assaulted by Kavanaugh, then 17 and a student at a nearby high school. She said Kavanaugh and his friend Mark Judge, both very drunk, locked her in an upstairs room at a party, where Kavanaugh jumped on top of her, groped her, tried to remove her clothes, and put his hand over her mouth to keep her from screaming.

Kavanaugh spent more than half an hour raging against Senate Democrats for "totally and permanently" destroying his name, his career, his family, his life. It was evidence of an unsettling temperament in a man trying to persuade the nation of his judicial demeanor.

Kavanaugh gave misleading answers to some questions. He gave coy answers when pressed about a sexual innuendo in his high-school yearbook. He dodged a number of times when senators asked him about his drinking habits and denied ever blacking out from too much drinking.

Dr Blasey described in detail what she did remember and was honest about what she didn't. She is a psychologist and explained precisely how a trauma gets burned into the brain and stays there long after other memories fade away. She is in hiding now with her family in face of death threats.

The Republican senators competed with each other to make the most ferocious denunciation of their Democratic colleagues and the most heartfelt declaration of sympathy for Kavanaugh and his bid to get a lifetime seat on America's highest court.

Mark Judge is the key witness in Blasey's allegation. He says he doesn't recall the party or an assault. But he hasn't faced live questioning. Kavanaugh and Judge are both known as heavy drinkers.

AR Trump backs K.

Brexit Is Unnegotiable

Jolyon Howorth

The British people were misled by the Brexiteers. Voters did not know the difference between a hard or a soft Brexit, or the relative merits and demerits of the EEA model or the Canada model or the no deal model, or any model. They were sold a myth.

All serious studies on the impact of Brexit show the UK will be worse off after the UK leaves than it was before. The Chequers plan has been rejected by the EU27. If it will not work for the EU, it will not work. The onus is on the UK to set out a new plan.

Theresa May should admit the truth in an address to the British people. Brexit was a mistake. There is no positive outcome that meets the red lines of the two parties. Brexit was a bad idea.

Call A Timeout

Philip Stephens

Britain is not ready for Brexit. It needs a timeout period during which it remains in the single market and customs union while its politicians reconsider the options:
Stop the clock on the Article 50 negotiations
Extend the planned transition period
Join the EEA for a few years

All three leave Britain worse off than now. Such is the reality of Brexit.

A Second EU Referendum

James Blitz

Speculation is growing about whether the UK might hold a second referendum on leaving the EU.
If Theresa May secures a deal in Brussels and parliament approves it, Britain will leave the EU.
If May strikes a deal in Brussels but loses the Commons vote, Labour will try to force an election.
    This could trigger a political crisis.

A second referendum may be the way forward.
The question for the public:
If May gets a deal, whether to back it or stay in the EU
If May fails to get a deal, whether to go for no deal Brexit or stay in the EU
Or a 3-way preference vote: May's final deal, a no deal Brexit, or stay in the EU

The UK would have to seek an extension of the Article 50 process.
A referendum would need to be held before May 2019.

2018 September 27

Happy Dog

The Times

US defence secretary and former four-star Marine Corps commander James Mattis addressed hundreds of military cadets at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington: "If you watch the news you can start wondering what's going on in this country .. We all know our country is having a tough time right now. I am so happy to be out of Washington DC right now I could cry."

President Trump has stopped calling Mattis by his nickname "Mad Dog" and now refers to him as "Moderate Dog".

2018 September 26

Laughing Stock

Michael H Fuchs

For the rest of the world, US president Donald Trump is a laughing stock, not a leader. That was the takeaway from Trump's speech to the UN general assembly.

AR No joke.

NV diamond probe

Quantum Atmospheres

Marcus Woo

Frank Wilczek and Qing-Dong Jiang propose to discover the hidden properties of an ordinary material by probing its surrounding quantum atmosphere, which they say has an an effect like a magnetic field on anything that crosses into it. A diamond probe with nitrogen-vacancy (NV) centers, where some of the C atoms are swapped out for N atoms and where the spot adjacent to the N is empty, might sense it.

People's Vote

Michal Iwanowski
Go Home, Polish
This summer, Michal Iwanowski
walked from his house in Wales
to his home village in Poland.
Along the way, he kept a
photo diary of his journey:
"I feel utterly at home walking
in the landscape, wherever
that landscape is."




Universal Time

Julian Baggini

Time is linear, ordered into past, present, and future. Linear time fits in with an eschatological worldview in which all of human history is building up to a final judgment. This is the way of viewing time in the largely Christian west.

Time and space are theoretical abstractions in modern physics, but in human culture they are concrete realities. To understand time and space in oral philosophical traditions, we have to see them less as abstract mathematical concepts and more as living conceptions.

Western philosophy strives for a universality that glosses over differences of time and place. Refusal to accept practices and customs has bred intolerance for barbaric and unjust traditional practices. The universalist aspiration becomes insensitive to the different needs of different cultures.

Saying there are no universal truths is itself a universal claim about the nature of truth. But the universalist aspiration is rooted in the particular. Belief in progress is a relic of the Christian view of history.

AR Either we live in a universal narrative or we sink into incoherence.

2018 September 25



President Trump addressed the UN General Assembly: "America will always choose independence and cooperation over global governments, control, and domination .. We will never surrender America's sovereignty to an unelected, unaccountable, global bureaucracy."

AR So WW3 = US versus Globorg?

Brexit Zinger

Martin Kettle

Labour shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer said one option must be a campaign for a public vote: "Nobody is ruling out remain as an option."

The response in the hall to that was immediate. First an instant volley of applause, but then, from deeper in the hall, and somehow also from somewhere deeper in the gut of the party conference, came the cheering, prolonged and surging, and then the standing ovation.

AR 1639 UCT: Labour delegates have overwhelmingly voted in favour of the Brexit motion saying holding a second referendum should be an option.

Britain and Greece

Gideon Rachman

The Brexit negotiations could fail. Both the EU and the UK are now talking seriously about the threat of no deal. Britain may be heading toward a traumatic experience that forces it into a fundamental reassessment.

The current mood of defiance in Britain recalls Greece after its referendum rejecting the terms of an EU bailout in 2015. Greek politicians misread the strength of their position and were humiliated when they had to accept the bailout.

British hubris suggests a failure to come to terms with the balance of power in these negotiations. As the Greeks discovered, it is what happens in the streets and the financial markets that really shows where power lies.

British determination to stand firm against the EU risks being undermined by the markets. The UK is less vulnerable to a financial panic, but British complaints about the EU may be no more effective than Greek complaints.


The Times

Boris Johnson, David Davis, and the ERG propose the IEA Plan A+ as a blueprint for a "clean" Brexit.

Plan A+ is close to the Canada plus proposal for Brexit and is based on a free trade agreement with the EU rather than a mechanism for regulatory alignment. It proposes a wholesale reorientation of the economy away from Europe and toward the United States and Asia.

Plan A+ calls for independent food standards, corporation tax cuts to compete with Asian economies, and an immediate start to trade talks with non-EU countries. It rules out any concession that would subject British businesses to EU regulations.

Hard Brexiteers see the plan as a bracing alternative to the Chequers plan and better than no deal.

2018 September 24

"A Fucking Liar"

The New York Times

President Trump considers it the duty of all administration officials to peddle his version of reality to protect his interests.

Commerce secretary Wilbur Ross has been accused of ethical shiftiness and may have committed
     perjury in his push to add a question about citizenship status to the census form. On Friday, a
     federal judge called his credibility an issue.
 Secretary of homeland security Kirstjen Nielsen insisted that the administration did not have a
     policy of splitting apart migrant families even as she was aggressively enforcing and publicly
     defending that policy.
 Interior department secretary Ryan Zinke and top aides withheld data pointing to the benefits
     of protecting various national monuments while they played up the benefits of removing the
 White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders regularly misleads the American people on
     issues ranging from whether the president paid hush money to Stormy Daniels to less salacious

When the president signals that he regards honesty as a handicap, he drags the whole executive branch down to his level.

AR Bob Woodward's book Fear ends with these words:
       Trump had one overriding problem that [former US attorney and Trump lawyer John] Dowd knew
       but could not bring himself to say to the president: "You're a fucking liar."

King Trump

Jonathan Stevenson

President Donald Trump believes his authority is practically monarchical. His belligerent posturing toward Iran and North Korea and his cavalier disregard for legal procedure make many observers wonder if he will try to start a war.

Under Article I of the Constitution, only Congress can declare war. But Article II makes the president the commander-in-chief, and neither Korea nor Vietnam was a declared war.

Trump is a hawkish advocate of American dominance. He has little patience for constraints on presidential power and holds legal arguments in contempt. His decision to withdraw from the nuclear deal with Iran was clearly a way to weaken Iran and free the United States to attack its nuclear facilities.

Trump might start a war against North Korea without seeking congressional authorization. By appointing Mike Pompeo as secretary of state and John Bolton as national security adviser, he has surrounded himself with hawks whose ideas mirror his own.

The lack of constraint was painfully evident in Trump's lopsided concessions to North Korea at the Singapore summit, his alienation of European allies at the NATO summit, his obsequiousness toward Russian president Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, and his recklessly improvised Iran policy.

There is growing concern in Congress that Trump might start an unauthorized war.


Clare Foges

No Chequers
No cherry picking
No to have cake and eat it

Brexiteers blame Theresa May for not squaring impossible circles. They blame Remainers and business elites for lacking patriotism. They blame the EU for acting in its own interests.

They must put up or shut up.

2018 September 23

ABC Conjecture Proof Flaw

Erica Klarreich

Peter Scholze and Jakob Stix have found a fundamental flaw within a 2012 series of four papers by Shinichi Mochizuki claiming to prove the abc conjecture in number theory. The proof was written in an impenetrable style over more than 500 pages.

Scholze and Stix say the reasoning near the end of the proof of Corollary 3.12 in the third paper is fundamentally flawed. The corollary is central to the proposed abc proof.

The ABC Conjecture
     Let a + b = c, where a, b, c are positive integers with no common prime factors.  Take all the
     primes that divide a or b or c and let p be the product of these primes.
     For any exponent n > 1, there are only finitely many abc triples such that c > pn.

Mochizuki approached the abc conjecture by translating it into one about an inequality involving elliptic curves, then to an inequality between the volumes of two sets. Corollary 3.12 "proves" the latter inequality.

Scholze and Stix say the proof involves putting the volumes of the two sets inside two copies of ℝ, which are then represented as part of a circle of six copies of ℝ, together with mappings between the copies.

Here things go wrong, say Scholze and Stix, recalling an Escher staircase that climbs up to below where it started. Skeptics of Mochizuki's abc proof may well consider this the end of the story.

AR See blog 2012 September 12.

2018 September 22

NASA Sat Tracks Earth Ice Melt

The Guardian

A new $1 billion NASA satellite will orbit over Earth's polar regions to measure the heights of ice sheets and the thickness of remaining sea ice.

NASA deputy project scientist for the ICESat-2 mission Tom Neumann: "With sea ice .. the thickness .. gives you some insight into why the area is changing the way it is."

ICESat-2 was launched last week and will start work in October.

Ice, Cloud, and Land Elevation Satellite 2

The ICESat-2 mission has four science objectives:
Measure melting ice sheets and investigate how this effects sea level rise
Measure and investigate changes in the mass of ice sheets and glaciers
Estimate and study sea ice thickness
Measure the height of vegetation in forests and other ecosystems worldwide

ICESat-2 will collect data from a polar orbit at an altitude of 500 km. It carries an Advanced Topographic Laser Altimeter System, ATLAS, to measure the travel times of laser pulses and calculate its height above the Earth's surface. ATLAS will make a detailed and precise picture of the heights of the planet's ice, vegetation, land surface, water, and clouds from orbit.

ATLAS carries 2 green (532 nm) lasers, one primary and one backup, firing pulses at a frequency of 10 kHz. The laser output is split into 3 pairs of pulsed beams. Each pulse contains about 20 trillion photons, about 10 of which return to the detector.

Returning photons from the 6 beams are focused on 6 fiber optic cables in the focal plane of a beryllium telescope 80 cm in diameter. From those fibers, the photons pass through a series of filters to prevent reflected sunlight from swamping the detectors.

A reference system steers the beams and takes measurements every 70 cm along the ground path. The detector collects data for each returned photon with a time-of-flight precision of 800 ps and sends it to a system that beams it down to mission control.

Members of the public can run an app on the data to provide new knowledge for use in resource management and policy making.

2018 September 21


The Times

Theresa May is battling to salvage her Brexit strategy and facing a fresh Tory revolt after being humiliated by European leaders yesterday.

The martyrdom of St Theresa: Rubbing Salzburg into the Brexit wound

Theresa May: I will not overturn Brexit

EU Says No

Financial Times

The EU27 leaders face issues far bigger than Brexit. But for UK prime minister Theresa May, her Chequers Brexit plan was all that mattered. When European Council president Donald Tusk stated flatly that it "would not work" and would undermine the single market, she was undone.

Throughout the Brexit debate, too much attention has been paid to the wants and whims of the Conservatives. Other European countries face more urgent challenges. The best May can hope for now is a blind Brexit covering only the process of withdrawal. All the rest will be fudged.

This is wholly unsatisfactory. It merely pushes vital questions about the future UK-EU relationship into the transition period. The cliff edge moves from March 2019 to December 2020. There is no achievable relationship for the UK that is better than the present EU membership.

AR The UK has played no constructive part in any of the really important EU debates for several years. Instead, only complaints and selfish calls for special treatment have emerged from Westminster. Brits are still EU citizens — time to act the part.


Eye of the Tiger

Trump Brexit

People's Vote

"There is a unanimous, or
almost unanimous .. point
of view .. that we would
like .. that the UK has
another referendum."
Malta PM Joseph Muscat,
Salzburg, 0825 UCT

My photos

Tight Brits, Loose UK

4 in 10 Brits think multi-
culturalism has undermined
British culture and migrants
are not integrating. Only
1 in 7 are satisfied with
government handling
of immigration.



TV series, Season 1
AR Watched it this week.
Good Anglo-German

Burn the Bra
"People have often
been offended by the sight
of my nipples poking out ..
I hope one day women's
chests .. won't be con-
sidered inappropriate."
Erin Saxcoburg



2018 September 20

Brexit Mauling

The Guardian, 1431 UCT

UK prime minister Theresa May tried to downplay unexpectedly strong criticism by other EU leaders of her Chequers plan: "I have always said these negotiations were going to be tough, and at various stages of these negotiations tactics would be used."

European council president Donald Tusk warned of a breakdown in the Brexit talks unless Theresa May delivers a solution for the Irish border by October.

French president Emmanuel Macron: "Brexit is the choice of the British people pushed by those who predicted easy solutions .. Those people are liars."

Brexit Deal Far Away

The Times

At a gathering of EU leaders in Salzburg, UK prime minister Theresa May said the UK will leave the EU on 29 March next year and "the onus is now on all of us to get this deal done" by November.

European Council president Donald Tusk described the Chequers proposal as a "positive evolution" that showed a "will to minimise negative effects of Brexit" but added the "proposals need to be reworked or further negotiated" before they are acceptable.

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said Brussels and Britain were "far away" from a deal.

What Went Wrong?

Catherine Barnard

"As we leave the European Union, we will forge a bold new positive role for ourselves in the world, and we will make Britain a country that works not for a privileged few, but for every one of us."
Theresa May, 2016

A country that prided itself on having a good civil service, a history of pragmatism, and huge experience in international relations botched its approach to Brexit. May let a small team of close advisers dictate the way ahead. She set red lines on migration, sovereignty, and the administration of justice. She must come out of the bunker.

No Deal Brexit

Peter Müller, Jörg Schindler

Saturday, March 30, 2019 — British radio stations report traffic jams at the ferry docks of Dover and Folkstone. All flights from Heathrow, Gatwick and other airports to continental Europe are canceled.

Monday — The pound takes a nosedive, bringing the share prices of British companies down with it. Shoppers begin emptying supermarket shelves. Gas stations start to run out of gasoline. Cornwall and Scotland declare states of emergency.

A week later — Hospitals run out of vital medications. Reports of theft and looting emerge. Police chiefs call for military backup. In London, government ministers are fighting each other.

AR Let the people vote against this scenario.

2018 September 19

Fort Trump


Polish president Andrzej Duda urges US president Donald Trump to deploy more US troops and military equipment to Poland, perhaps to a permanent military base named Fort Trump.

USAF "needs more firepower"

The US Air Force wants to add more bombers, fighters, tankers and other front-line units by 2030 to confront rising threats from China and Russia. Officials call for a nearly 25% increase in operational squadrons in the next 12 years.

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson: "The Air Force is too small for what the nation is asking us to do. We have 312 operational squadrons today. The Air Force we need has 386 operational squadrons by 2030."

The US National Defense Strategy calls China and Russia the central challenge facing the US military: "Interstate strategic competition, not terrorism, is now the primary concern in US national security."

Quantum Contradiction?

Anil Ananthaswamy

Quantum theory explains the behavior of microscopic things like electrons and atoms. In practice, it is hard to observe quantum behavior in large objects without their fragile quantum state collapsing, but in principle the theory still applies.

Daniela Frauchiger and Renato Renner came up with a thought experiment that implies a contradiction.

Amy tosses a coin and uses the result to set the spin of a particle: heads, spin down; tails, spin up. Amy then sends the particle to Brian, who measures the spin. If Brian finds spin up, he knows Amy got tails, else she got heads. The pair repeat this experiment over and over.

Andy uses quantum theory to model Amy and her entire lab. Andy checks whether Amy and her lab are in a superposition of two states. The result is Yes or No. Bella applies quantum theory to Brian and his lab in the same way.

The spin of the particle as measured by Brian is entangled with the outcome of Amy's coin toss: If Andy gets Yes for a coin toss, he can say something about the spin of the particle Brian saw. If Bella gets Yes for a coin toss, she can say something about whether Amy saw heads or tails.

Theory implies that in a small minority of cases, Andy can get Yes and know Brian saw spin down while Bella can get Yes and know Amy saw tails. The contradiction shows an assumption in the theoretical analysis must be wrong.

AR How can Andy and Bella not entangle with the (Amy + lab) and (Brian + lab) states?

2018 September 18

Stop Brexit

Andrew Adonis

The fatal flaw of Brexit is the act of putting the UK outside the EU and its future. No viable Brexit plan is on offer or in sight. So stop it.

Theresa May should announce that the government's Brexit deal will be put to a referendum after it comes to parliament at the end of the year, giving the people the choice not to proceed and instead to stay in the EU. The people should make the final decision on Brexit.

Brexit will only be stopped if members of parliament show courage and leadership. If we end up in a blind Brexit without a credible plan for our national future, we and our children will pay a steadily greater price until we once again take our place in the EU.

2018 September 17

Science of Brexit and Trump

Michele Gelfand

My research across hundreds of communities suggests that the fundamental driver of difference is cultural. Our behavior depends a lot on whether the culture we live in is tight or loose.

Norms are rules for acceptable behavior that we take for granted. As children we learn hundreds of them. Social norms are the glue that holds groups together and give us our identity.

Tight cultures have strong norms and little tolerance for deviance, while loose cultures are the opposite. The United States is a relatively loose culture: Every day a person can witness a slew of casual norm violations, from littering to jaywalking to arguing loudly on the street. In Singapore, gum is banned, streets are pristine, and jaywalkers are rare. Japan puts huge emphasis on punctuality.

Tight cultures as diverse as Sparta and Singapore face a high degree of threat. Strong norms are needed to help them survive. Loose cultures like classical Athens or modern New Zealand enjoy the luxury of facing fewer threats. They can explore new ideas, accept newcomers, and tolerate a wide range of behavior.

Tight and loose contrasts also appear within countries. US states with histories punctuated by high threat, including more natural disasters, higher pathogen prevalence and food scarcity, are much tighter than those that enjoyed relative safety. This helps explain why those on low incomes consistently prefer strong rules and leaders.

Tight groups have lower crime, tend to be cleaner and more coordinated, and have fewer problems with obesity, debt, alcoholism, and drug abuse. Loose groups are more disorganized but they excel at openness, tolerance, creativity, and flexibility. Tight groups are less innovative, more ethnocentric, and more resistant to new ideas.

Tight−loose differences can explain global patterns of conflict, revolution, terrorism, and populism. As threats emerge, groups tighten. As they subside, groups loosen.

The strongest Trump supporters believe their country is threatened. They feel their culture is too loose and they want tighter rules and a stricter leader. Fearful voters also drove the Brexit decision and moves toward the right in France, Poland, Russia, the Philippines, Austria, Hungary, the Netherlands, and Italy.

2018 September 16

Brexit: Into Limbo

Nick Clegg

The talks between the UK and the EU are likely to reach agreement on how to leave the EU but not on how to what to do next. The UK government has a hopelessly fudged Chequers plan, while Brexiteers claim no deal would be a manageable outcome. Under either scenario, once a Brexit plan is agreed, Britain will be floating outside the EU without any legally agreed future.

The only legally binding component of any deal will be related to the arrangements for withdrawal, while the framework for the future relationship will be subject to a political declaration. UK prime minister Theresa May knew this from the outset. EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier has been asked to arrange for an orderly and legally sound departure of the UK from the EU.

The British political and media establishment underestimates the centrality of law to the EU. British decision makers assume that fudge and muddle will do the trick. But the EU has hard legal contours that resist the nudge and wink dealmaking of Westminster tea rooms.

French president Emmanuel Macron recently warned against the dangers of a blind Brexit. He is right to be worried. MPs still have time to give the UK more time to choose a better future.

Brexit: Our Verdict

The Observer

Britain stands on the brink of a momentous decision. Our politicians are no closer to reaching a consensus on a satisfactory form of leaving the EU than they were in 2016. This leaves the country in a dangerous political vacuum.

By itself, the 2016 referendum did not afford sufficient democratic legitimacy for taking Britain out of the EU, come what may and however bad the terms. It gave the prime minister a mandate to negotiate the best possible exit terms and bring them back for approval. It was not a blank cheque for her to take Britain out of Europe on any terms.

The parliamentary vote on offer does not provide sufficient scrutiny for the biggest decision Britain has faced in decades. MPs will only get a vote for or against the deal. If they vote against, Britain will crash out.

Theresa May has not resolved the trade-off between border control and market access that the EU insistence that we cannot cherrypick from its four single market freedoms implies. She not been clear that if Britain wants to opt out of free movement of people, there will be significant costs. Labour has not only failed to challenge her chicanery, it has helped sustain it.

The only way out of this democratic conundrum is for MPs to force the government to put its deal to the electorate. Voters must be offered the option to accept the deal or to seek to remain in the EU on our current terms. The idea that the 2016 vote is binding is preposterous.

No significant political constituency advocates crashing out with no deal. Crashing out with no deal would be economically calamitous. This scenario should only be put to the public vote if May fails to secure a deal.

Holding another referendum is risky. Remainers would need to make a positive case for EU membership. Leavers would probably seek to whip up a backlash against a betrayal of the people.

For two years, Britain has been failed by its political class on the most important question the country has faced in decades. We must take the chance to deliver our verdict on the terms of departure. We must have a referendum on the deal.

Brexit: Take Back Control

Sadiq Khan

I campaigned for the UK to remain. I said all along that any form of Brexit would result in fewer jobs, less prosperity, and a reduced role for Britain on the world stage.

But the will of the British people was to leave the EU. I respect that and wanted us to make the best of the situation. I worked closely with the Brexit secretary and other cabinet members to push for the best possible deal.

Theresa May has failed to negotiate a Brexit position with her own party, let alone agree a deal with the EU. At every stage, her government has looked unprepared and out of its depth. With time rapidly running out, we are left with a bad deal or no deal.

The people must get a final say. Take this crucial issue out of the hands of the politicians and return it to the people, so that they can take back control.

AR The 2016 referendum was a single binary choice made by some 33 million people — about 4 MB: a single snapshot taken in thick fog over two years ago. That should justify jumping off a cliff?

The Phoney Victory

Peter Hitchens

Sir Winston Churchill saved Britain and probably the world when he rightly refused to parley with Hitler in 1940. But Churchill made many errors:

He sealed the fate of the new British battleship HMS Prince of Wales in December 1941 by sending it and another great ship on a futile mission to Singapore, where Japanese aircraft sank them both. In February 1942, British and Australian forces surrendered at Singapore and 85,000 men went into ghastly captivity. This was the greatest single defeat of British arms in history and caused a permanent collapse in British power and reputation in the East.

He was obsessed with fighting in and around the Mediterranean at the cost of ships and men to fight U-boats. He committed forces to the defence of British interests in Egypt when the German threat to the oilfields of Iraq and Iran came through the USSR. In August 1940, he ordered a third of his remaining tanks to Egypt. In early 1941, he intervened in Greece unnecessarily, and was forced into headlong evacuations from both Greece and Crete. German air power destroyed British forces in Crete. RAF fighters were unavailable because Britain was building bombers.

He threw huge numbers of men and machines into the RAF night bombing offensive against German civilians and their homes with morally and materially debatable effect. During the entire war, the RAF only destroyed some 5% of German housing. In 1942, the RAF killed two Germans for every bomber lost, and most of the bombs missed their targets completely. He said the RAF attacks advanced the war effort by diverting German aircraft and artillery from the Eastern Front, but later US precision bombing showed that an RAF bomber offensive against military and economic targets would have done more to win the war.

AR Peter's late brother Christopher was an iconoclast too.

2018 September 15

A People's Vote

Matthew Parris

Revolution is in the air. Another vote on Europe is moving fast from the highly unlikely to the distinctly possible.

There is little enthusiasm in parliament for the Chequers plan, but it may be the only available basis for a deal. Theresa May stands a fair chance of getting her deal through parliament later this year, though a dozen ERG dissenters could sink it.

Faced with no deal, or a draft deal defeated in the Commons, or a lost free vote on the deal, May could avoid resignation by proposing a referendum. If she resigned, demands for a general election could be countered by a new leader pledging a referendum. A referendum would break the constitutional logjam.

The current deadline for negotiating the UK departure from the EU would have to be extended. The Electoral Commission would want a few months for the referendum campaign. I expect our EU partners would agree to an extension for this purpose.

The commission would also recommend a binary question. No deal is not an option: With no clarity on what the ERG proposes, it cannot be put to a vote. In the absence of any other workable proposal, the only alternative to a Chequers-based deal is to remain in the EU.

AR Glad to hear it.

2018 September 14

Weak Pound Bad

Chris Giles

In 1948, £1 sterling bought just over $4 and DM 13.4. Today it buys only $1.30 and the equivalent of DM 2.20.

Since 1948, only Canada had a weaker growth of GDP per head among the G7 economies. Since the advent of the euro in 1999, UK living standards have improved more slowly than the average EZ member.

The 25% sterling depreciation from late 2007 to early 2009 failed to save Britain from a slump. The 20% reduction in the value of the pound since late 2015 has been even more disappointing. Net trade has contributed nothing to growth since the Brexit referendum.

Since 2008, the great majority of Britons have become poorer. Only Mexico and Greece have seen weaker growth of real average wages over the past decade among countries in the OECD.

Companies overwhelmingly invoice their exports and imports in a dominant currency. For the UK, that means the US dollar and the euro. Sterling has much less effect on competitiveness and trade volumes than in the past.

Seeking to devalue sterling further makes no sense.

AR The UK should have gone the EZ way in 1999.

2018 September 13

Academic Publishing

George Monbiot

Robert Maxwell developed a ruthless and profitable business model. Academic journals are natural monopolies and can charge high fees for the transmission of knowledge. Scientists write the articles, review them, and edit the journals for free. Researchers read the paywalled articles in commercial journals.

Most scientific research is carried out at public expense in universities. This public asset is captured, packaged, and sold back to the public for phenomenal fees. Those who pay most are publicly funded libraries. Taxpayers pay first for the research, then to see the work they have sponsored.

A consortium of European funders has taken on the problem with Plan S: From 2020, any research they sponsor will no longer be locked up. Researchers they fund must publish in open-access journals. Plan S is the beginning of the end for the Maxwell model.

AR The paywalls have been a feature ever since I worked at Springer and helped pioneer web publishing. Our profits were sinking as paper went out of fashion. We survived by charging fees for promoting excellence in scientific research.

2018 September 12

State of the Union

Jean-Claude Juncker

Peace: The European Union has brought peace to the continent.

Economy: Europe has ridden out the economic crisis and is growing consistently.

Trade: Europe stands for multinationalism and will remain an open continent.

Immigration: Europe will never become a fortress turning its back on the world.

Standards: Europe should continue to set global standards in new technology.

Brexit: The EU respects but regrets the UK decision and asks the British government to
     understand that outside the union it cannot enjoy the same privileges as within. Europe will
     always show solidarity with Ireland over the border issue with the UK. The UK will always be
     a close partner in political, economic, and security terms.

Euro: The euro has been a success but the project needs to be taken further.

Foreign policy: EU counties should no longer be able to veto EU foreign policy.

The far right: Say no to unhealthy nationalism and yes to enlightened patriotism.

Africa: Europe must stop seeing its relation to Africa as donor to recipient.

Time: Countries should decide on changing their clocks between summer and winter.

Tax: Companies should pay taxes where they earn their profits.

Testing Cosmogenesis

Natalie Wolchover

Xingang Chen, Avi Loeb, and Zhong-Zhi Xianyu predict an oscillatory pattern in cosmic distribution of matter that could distinguish between inflation and alternative cosmogenesis scenarios.

Imagine taking a giant ice cream scoop to the sky and counting the galaxies per scoop. Do this many times to find how the number varies. With ever larger scoops, the amplitude of matter density variations should oscillate between more and less extreme.

CLX say the form of these oscillations show whether the peaks formed while the universe was expanding, as in inflation models, or while it was contracting, as in bounce models.

If the universe contracted before a bounce, ripples in the quantum fields would be squeezed. As it shrank smaller than ripples of a certain wavelength, any peaks would freeze into density variations. As it shrank further, ripples at ever smaller scales would freeze.

If instead the universe inflated, as it grew ever bigger it would fit quantum ripples with ever larger wavelengths. Density variations would be imprinted at each scale at the moment that ripples of that size were able to form.

Differences between the oscillations in the two scenarios can show which one occurred.

AR I don't see any structure surviving a bounce.

Sky map

IPAC/Caltech, by Thomas Jarrett
All-sky map of local universe derived from 2MASS Extended Source Catalog of more than 1.5 million galaxies:
Milky Way shown at center, other galaxies color-coded by distance

to Brexit:

200 days


Published today

Cixin Liu

"Wildly imaginative, really
interesting .. The scope
of it was immense."
Barack Obama


2018 September 11

Vostok 2018


Russia has kicked off what it says are its largest war games since the fall of the Soviet Union. At least 300,000 troops, 36,000 vehicles and 1,000 aircraft will take part in the Vostok 2018 exercises. They are joined by thousands of troops from China and Mongolia for a week of exercises in Russia's Eastern Military District, close to the country's borders with China and Mongolia.

The exercises coincide with the Russian-sponsored Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, where Russian president Vladimir Putin and Chinese premier Xi Jinping held a bilateral meeting. Trade between Russia and China increased 50% in H1 2018, with the total expected to reach $100 billion by the end of the year.

Alongside Putin, Xi said China and Russia will work together to maintain stability and peace in the world. Warmer ties between Xi and Putin have been exhaustively covered by domestic media in both countries. The Russia narrative is that China and Russia are part of a dynamic new world order.

Brexit: Deal By November?

The Times

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier says a Brexit deal is "possible" by November. Sterling rose more than 1% on the news.

Downing Street is to begin a drive to hammer home the message that Chequers is the only deal on the table. A No 10 source says a deal is "eminently doable" as Europeans see they cannot let negotiations collapse.

All depends on how generous EU27 leaders are to Theresa May in Austria on September 20.

Senior EU official: "If we are going to get the deal over the line then it is necessary to help May."

Brexit: Voters Switch Off

Rafael Behr

Boredom is the biggest barrier. Public opinion is never settled, but 60% of UK voters now agree with the statement: "I no longer care how or when we leave the EU, I just want it over and done with."

Negotiations in Brussels are not going well and time is short. To get a deal, the prime minister must make compromises that outrage hardliners.

People's Vote campaigners foresee a trilemma: There is a deal, MPs say it is a bad deal, no one has a better idea. An option to call the whole thing off then looks good.

People beyond Westminster who had no strong feelings about the EU before they were asked in 2016 have none now, except to get the question out of their lives.

The bottom line is simple. For leave: Just get on with it. For remain: Just stop it.

Brexit: ERG Plan Fails

Financial Times

Conservative Eurosceptic planned to publish a blueprint for the future UK relationship with the EU but it fell apart. Their 140-page draft plan was meant to show they had a detailed alternative.

European Research Group head Jacob Rees-Mogg says the full document will not be published: "The truth is that we reconsidered."

ERG members have different opinions. Some think it not a bad idea for the UK to join the EEA, others hate it. Some are relaxed about leaving without a deal and others think it mad.

The draft plan includes proposals for radical tax cuts to remodel the UK economy, creation of a UK nuclear missile shield, and an expeditionary force to defend the Falkland Islands.

2018 September 10

Our Human Future

Cixin Liu

The technology we have is still primitive. If aliens travel hundreds of light years to get here, the gap between our respective technologies would be about the same as that between humans and ants.

A glance over human history tells us that the rise and fall of a great many civilizations is the result of war. Consider what happens when a species meets a stronger, more intellectually developed competitor. Every year, thousands of species disappear because they ran up against humans.

If we receive a message from the stars, I think we should be cautious, rather than recklessly respond to the message and expose our location. Some people think if a species enjoys a high level of civilization, it is bound to maintain high moral standards. That's very naive.

We will continue to develop our civilization and expand not just on Earth, but also across the solar system, the galaxy, even the entire universe. But I'm absolutely pessimistic about the survival of the other species who currently share Earth with us. The development of human civilization will eventually force other living things to go extinct or become our food.

We can create an environment to sustain ourselves with technology, even if the ecosystem collapses. The new system could be on Earth or in space. Humans are selfish, and because of our innate selfishness, I'm very confident that we can overcome any amount of environmental destruction.

Even though we still have defined nations, the borderlines between nations, ethnicities, and religions are disappearing. Technology is improving communication and accelerating cultural exchange. The world will share the same set of values and become more united.

Science immensely expands the canvas for science fiction. I write science fiction because I'm fascinated by science.

Swedish Election Results

Jon Henley

Sweden faces political uncertainty after the election left the two main parliamentary blocs tied but well short of a majority.

In preliminary results, the governing Social Democrats finished first at 28.4% and the main opposition Moderate party slipped to 19.8%. With the centre-left bloc at 40.6% and the centre-right at 40.2%, the far-right Sweden Democrats won 17.6%, to give it 63 of the 349 seats in the Riksdag.

Social Democrat prime minister Stefan Löfven will not resign: "The Sweden Democrats can never, and will never, offer anything that will help society. They will only increase division and hate."

Sweden Democrat leader Jimmie Åkesson: "We will will have an immense influence over what happens .. Sweden needs breathing space. We need tight responsible immigration policies."

Nicholas Aylott

The Sweden Democrats have deprived either of the traditional blocs of a majority. Those blocs will try to find a stable governing solution.

The four parties of the centre-right, the Alliance parties, could take over power as soon as parliament reopens if they were prepared to make a deal with the Sweden Democrats. But the Centre and Liberal parties say they are not, and the Moderates, Christian Democrats, and Sweden Democrats together have too few votes.

If the left bloc ends up with just one more seat than the right bloc, the Centre Party says any Alliance government will need the consent of the left bloc. So the government would have the participation or support of the Social Democrats and maybe the Greens too.

I think either the Social Democrats will stay in power or we will end up with the Liberal or Centre parties accepting a Social Democrat prime minister.

2018 September 9

Swedish Exit From West?

The Sunday Times

Sweden holds a national election today. Polls put the Sweden Democrats, a right-wing anti-immigrant party with sympathies for Moscow, in second place.

Although not a NATO member, Sweden supports the alliance and its forces will take part in NATO war games with America and Britain in Norway next month.

Sir Antony Beevor: "The military are deeply worried that this pro-Russian party may be able to force the others into a decision to turn Sweden away from NATO."

AR We all need better relations with Moscow.

M3 amphibious rig

Luhai Wong
M3 amphibious rig

People's Vote



No British Exit From Germany

The Sunday Times

UK defence secretary Gavin Williamson will leave some British troops to remain in Germany to deter Russian aggression. The MoD will abandon plans to withdraw all forces from Germany by 2020.

More than 200 servicemen and 400 family members will stay in Germany, including an engineering regiment for river crossings, which deploys M3 amphibious vehicles jointly operated by the British Army and the Bundeswehr. The army will also retain its training area near Paderborn and its vehicle storage depot at Mönchengladbach.

AR Better to leave British assets near the front line than let them rot in the UK.

No Good Brexit

Boris Johnson, Jeremy Hunt

Former foreign secretary Johnson:

Why are they bullying us? The reason is simple: Northern Ireland, and the insanity of the backstop. We have been so mad as to agree that if we can't find ways of producing frictionless trade between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, then Northern Ireland must remain in the customs union and the single market.

The Chequers plan keeps us subject to EU rules for goods, for food, in practice for trade, and much else besides, exposing UK business and entrepreneurs to potentially hostile regulation over which we have no control whatever. It means we are a vassal state. Either we must divide the UK or we must accept EU law forever.

It is time to scrap the backstop. Otherwise, we should tell our friends they won't get a penny.

Current foreign secretary Hunt:

The prime minister needs the flexibility and room to negotiate the best deal for Britain. Parliament will have the chance to debate and vote on any agreement. We should not rush to judgment on a deal that is still under negotiation.

Our plan will take Britain out of the single market and the customs union, end the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, and halt the payment of vast sums into the EU budget. It will end freedom of movement and withdraw from the common agricultural and common fisheries policies. Nobody else has a detailed plan that both delivers on the instruction of the British people and has a chance of succeeding in the negotiations.

We must not and will not ignore the will of the British people. This is the moment to back the prime minister.

AR Heed the people: Hold a new vote.

No Good War

Peter Hitchens

Many Brits think the second world war was a good war. The myth that it was glorious, and that it saved the world, is a muffler against the cold truth of economic failure and political weakness:

Britain sought a conflict with Germany, not Germany with Britain. Britain did not go to war to help Poland, or to save the Jews of Europe, but to assert itself as a great power.

Britain had no big interests in Poland, which was not a particularly democratic or free country. The British government believed it could teach Germany a lesson about the limits of power.

The industrial mass murder of Jews did not begin until 1942. Before the war, the persecution of Jews in Germany was obvious to the world, yet Britain did not even break off diplomatic relations.

Chamberlain was certain of war because he had decided to bring it about. His rearmament program was intended for imperial and national defence. Without it, Britain would have been sunk.

Britain did not stand alone against the Nazi menace after the fall of France. Britain had lost the war it declared. The prospect of a humiliating peace with Germany lingered until 1942.

The threat of German invasion was never a reality. Hitler made no big preparations for an invasion. German attacks on coastal convoys, military industries, and then cities were for show.

The Anglo-American alliance began only when Britain handed its wealth and supremacy to its former colony, offering America the chance to save the world.

British bombing killed German civilians deliberately. The policy did little damage to German war production and was wasteful of expensive aircraft and brave young aircrews.

Chamberlain and Daladier started a war which Stalin and Roosevelt finished. The war destroyed the Third Reich and created a new order in Europe. Britain and France failed in their aim.

The end of hostilities did not bring a new sunlit era of optimism in a ravaged continent. Victory led swiftly to an appeasement of Stalin at least as bad as the earlier appeasement of Hitler.

2018 September 8


Charlie Wood

William Hamilton struggled to find the math for describing 3D rotations. His solution was brilliant.

The real numbers on a 1D line form the first number system. The second system includes negative roots, called "imaginary" numbers. Imaginary numbers and real numbers form the 2D world of complex numbers.

Hamilton hoped to define a third number system. The problem was multiplication. In the complex plane, multiplication produces 2D rotations. But for multiplication in 3D, there was no opposing division that always gave meaningful answers.

Finally, Hamilton found his system in 4D space and named the new numbers quaternions. To describe 3D rotation, he set their real component to 0 and defined their 3 imaginary components as vectors. Rotating a 3D vector meant multiplying it by a pair of full 4D quaternions coding their direction and degree of rotation.

Everything you can do with real and complex numbers you can do with quaternions, except that order matters for multiplication: Quaternions do not commute. The quaternion describing a 2π turn only makes a half-turn in 4D space. Only a 4π turn brings the quaternion back to its initial state.

In quantum mechanics, a 2π turn rotates a boson to its initial state, but a fermion takes a 4π turn to return to its initial state. Enter spinors. Translating back and forth between groups of vectors and groups of spinors leads us to supersymmetry. A further generalization leads to the fourth and final number system: octonions.

Quaternion multiplication in action (31:50)

Prince Charles


Life 3.0
My review




BAF 2018
Bournemouth Air Festival

Sarrazin 2018


Many Things Need Doing

Prince Charles

I have always believed that living on a finite planet means we have to recognise that this puts certain constraints and limits on our human ambition in order to maintain the viability of the planet. The way we operate has to be in tune with the way nature and the universe works and not the way we think it ought to work.

I totally and utterly object to this extraordinary trend that somehow we must become part human, part machine. The more AI and robotics they want to introduce, the more people will rediscover the importance of the traditional crafts, of things crafted by humans and not by machines.

2018 September 7


China Daily

A British Royal Navy warship entered Chinese territorial waters around the Xisha Islands in the South China Sea on August 31. A British spokesman claimed HMS Albion was conducting a freedom of navigation operation.

Hundreds of thousands of commercial ships pass through the waterway each year transporting an estimated $5 trillion worth of goods. Not one has found its freedom of navigation compromised.

China and the UK had agreed to explore a possible free trade agreement after Brexit. To achieve that, the UK should refrain from being Washington's sharksucker in the South China Sea.

AR Nice put-down.


The Guardian

After HM Treasury minister John Glen was seen in Downing Street with a briefing document titled Operation Yellowhammer about planning for no deal Brexit, HMT chancellor Philip Hammond made a statement: "In no-deal circumstances we would have to refocus government priorities so that government was concentrated on the circumstances that we found ourselves."

AR Brexit-driven austerity?

2018 September 6


Stephen Collinson

If Bob Woodward is right, the United States and the world are in danger. There is an aggrieved and abusive Shakespearean king raging in the Oval Office. The president is viewed with contempt by those who serve him and open to ridicule by others who see his swagger as a front for inadequacy.

Woodward's revelations must raise questions about whether top officials owe the public an explanation. If key figures are really intervening regularly to avert national security disasters, should they not make their worries known to the American people and the Congress?

The president has already given every impression of wallowing in fury and resentment. With his inner circle of aides apparently dumping on him, he is likely to be even more brittle and alone.

Against Trump


President Trump is facing a test to his presidency. Many of the senior officials in his own administration are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations. I am one of them.

Our first duty is to this country. The president continues to act in a manner that is detrimental to the health of our republic. We have vowed to do what we can to preserve our democratic institutions until Trump is out of office.

The president is not moored to any discernible first principles that guide his decision making. Senior officials will privately admit their daily disbelief at the commander in chief's comments and actions. Most are working to insulate their operations from his whims.

On Russia, the president complained for weeks about senior staff members letting him get boxed into further confrontation with Russia. This isn't the work of the deep state. It's the work of the steady state.

Artificial Intelligence

Jim Al-Khalili

AI is more important than all other big issues facing humanity, including climate change, world poverty, terrorism, pandemic threats, and antimicrobial resistance. It will dominate what happens with all these other issues, for better or for worse.

There could be a public backlash against AI. This could result in the technology not being used to its full potential in public life. This would leave the technology to proliferate, uncontrolled and unregulated, in the hands of a few increasingly powerful private technology companies at the expense of jobs, equality, and transparency.

AI could add $15 trillion a year to the global economy by 2030, more than the current output of China and India combined. Many jobs will be enhanced by AI, many will disappear and many new and as yet unknown jobs will be created.

A significant government investment in skills and training is imperative. AI is going to transform our lives in the coming decades even more than the internet has over the last few decades. Let's make sure we are ready for it.

AR Singularity

2018 September 5

Reconstruct Finance

Martin Wolf

Since the global financial crisis, politicians and policymakers have tried to stabilise the financial system and restore demand. This prevented economic collapse and brought a weak recovery.

The crisis was a devastating failure of the free market. If those who believe in the market economy and liberal democracy do not come up with better policies, demagogues will sweep them away.

Reform UK Economy

Phillip Inman

The IPPR says the shareholder model of capitalism is outmoded. Without investment on automation and digital services, the UK is likely to face another decade of stagnant wages, rising household debts, and deteriorating infrastructure.

Proposed reforms:
Increase the minimum hourly wage to £10.20 in London and £8.75 elsewhere.
Pay workers on zero-hours contracts 20% above the minimum wage.
Draft a strategy to boost public investment to the G7 average of 3.5% of GDP.
Change company governance to define director duties and put workers on boards.
Raise corporation tax and tackle tax avoidance by multinationals.
Introduce a single income tax for all types of income.
Replace inheritance tax with a lifetime gift tax.
Write a new economic constitution for the UK.

TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady: "Working people have had enough of stagnating living standards and massive inequality .. A better deal for a working people is possible, and will allow us to build a stronger, fairer economy."

2018 September 4


Max Hastings

Net migration from the EU to the UK fell to 87,000 in the year to March, while net migration from outside the EU rose to 235,000 in the same period.

After Brexit, Britain may gain powers to exclude EU nationals. But the government will gain no new powers to reduce legal immigration from outside the EU. Expect a bitter reaction from voters who support Brexit in the belief that it will curb migration.

Uncontrolled immigration is a political and social disaster which has precipitated agitation across Europe. The outdated 1953 European Convention on Human Rights (nothing to do with the EU) makes it hard to exclude people we might wish to keep out, or to repatriate them once they get here.

I have heard no prominent Brexiteer propose a credible answer to the challenges posed by non-EU migration. A vast population movement from the south toward the north is likely to increase spectacularly during the decades ahead. No European government has a policy to address this.

Some migration is economically indispensable. But the UK population has increased by 7 million since 2000, 82% of it due to migration. England now stands second only to the Netherlands in European population density.

Brexit will not solve the problem of controlling migration. We cannot seal Fortress UK. Non-EU immigration will still exceed government targets after Brexit.

AR Brimming, full up.

The German Alternative

Gideon Rachman

A million refugees and migrants entered Germany in 2015. The official opposition in the German parliament is now the Alternative for Deutschland, a populist, anti-migrant party. In Chemnitz about a quarter of the population supports or sympathises with the AfD.

The rise of the AfD and the visible anger on the streets of Germany has contributed to a sense that an era is coming to a close. Angela Merkel is said to be exhausted and shaken by the hatred she encountered in eastern Germany during the last election.

Germany sees the EU as a bastion of liberal values. The entrance of nationalists and populists into government in Italy, Hungary, Poland, and Austria makes German nationalists part of a broader European backlash against liberal orthodoxy.

In Hungary, prime minister Viktor Orban champions a nationalism that puts anti-refugee sentiment at its heart: "In 1990, we saw Europe as the future. Now we are the future of Europe."

AR Full up, stuffed.

Brexit Misery

Rachel Sylvester

With only weeks to go before a deal must be agreed between the UK and the EU, Britain is facing its greatest political crisis in living memory.

The swing to Remain has been almost twice as great among female voters as male ones. More than 80% of women believe the whole process of leaving the EU has been a mess, 71% want a vote on the final deal, and 60% felt misled by claims made during the referendum campaign in 2016.

There is also a growing generational divide, with all age groups under 50 now saying they want to stay in the EU. As older Leavers die and younger Remainers become eligible to vote, the Leave majority is shrinking by a thousand a day and will disappear completely by the end of 2019.

Conservatives risk looking like the party of old white men. Parliament is deadlocked. A referendum on the final deal may be the only solution.

AR Only maybe?

2018 September 3

Ding Ding!

Boris Johnson

So it's ding ding! Seconds out! And we begin the final round of that international slug fest, the Brexit negotiations .. in this case, I am afraid, the inevitable outcome is a victory for the EU, with the UK lying flat on the canvas ..

[T]he reality is that in this negotiation the EU has so far taken every important trick. The UK has agreed to hand over £40 billion of taxpayers' money for two thirds of diddly squat.

In adopting the Chequers proposals, we have gone into battle with the white flag fluttering over our leading tank. If we continue on this basis we will throw away most of the advantages of Brexit ..

It is now clear that some in the UK Government never wanted solutions .. For every problem, there is a potential solution.

AR Boris offers no solution except cod-Churchillian defiance.

The Next Tempest

David Bond

The UK aims to develop a new Tempest fighter jet. MoD officials and executives from BAE Systems, Leonardo, MBDA, and Rolls-Royce are developing a business case. The government has set aside £2 billion of funding.

Unclear is how Britain can afford to pay for a new fighter jet when it cannot afford to buy an agreed 138 F-35 stealth fighter jets from Lockheed Martin. An initial batch of 48 F-35s for the two new aircraft carriers will cost over £9 billion. The fate of the remaining 90 is uncertain.

Tempest is seen as central to UK power after Brexit. Germany and France will produce their own new fighter jet. Industry is concerned over the sustainability of two competing European projects.

Africa Owes China

Jenni Marsh

Since 2000, Ethiopia has taken over $12 billion from Chinese creditors. Its capital Addis Ababa is over 2 km above sea level and home to at least 2.7 million people. China has provided the city with a ring road, a big intersection, a six-lane highway, the Ethio-Djibouti railway line connecting the country to the sea, an inner-city Metro system, and the $200 million African Union headquarters.

Altogether, African countries owe China about $130 billion. A Chinese foreign affairs spokesperson says China has paid high attention to African debt situation and is dedicated to sustainable development. When China finances roads, railways, and hydropower dams, it stipulates that Chinese construction companies build them with Chinese concrete and steel.

Ethiopian government minister Arkebe Oqubay: "One of the unique things that makes Chinese funding quite attractive is they practice non-intervention in local politics."

2018 September 2

Brexit: The Fall

Tim Shipman

Theresa May faces a new threat to her leadership. The man who ran her 2017 election campaign aims to destroy her Brexit plan and install Boris Johnson in Downing Street.

Sir Lynton Crosby, the election guru who helped Johnson win two London mayoral elections, is working with hardline Brexiteers to campaign against the Chequers plan. His firm CTF Partners and the European Research Group (ERG) of Brexit hardliners plan to publish a new plan.

May could call a general election if her Brexit deal is voted down by MPs. Conservatives say 33 letters calling for her to resign were submitted before the summer recess; 48 are needed to trigger a vote of no confidence. May has again ruled out holding a second referendum on Brexit.

MPs returning to Westminster on Tuesday are predicting the most turbulent three months in parliament in living memory. Theresa May must do a deal with Brussels, fight Boris Johnson and the Brexiteers, and endure the next Conservative party conference.

A Brexiteer: "An army is starting to mass behind an alternative policy. CTF has seen the opportunity to be behind the new prime minister. They want to get Boris in there."

Another: "If Boris has the backing of the right, he'll win."

Labour Antisemitism

The Observer

The Labour party has become engulfed in internal battles about antisemitism and neglected its job in holding the government to account. Its national executive committee must decide whether to adopt in full the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism or to persist with its own definition.

Labour says the IHRA definition risks precluding legitimate criticism of the Israeli government. Not true. IHRA: "Criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic."

The IHRA definition does not prevent condemning Israeli governments for killing Gazans, for expanding settlements in Palestinian territory, or for discriminatory treatment of Arab Israelis.

The Labour party has no right to invent its own definition of antisemitism.

Culture and Identity

Francis Fukuyama

Samuel Huntington said political behavior is heavily shaped by culture, and culture is ultimately rooted in religion. He said the old ideological divisions would give way to a world order based on a few big religiously grounded civilizations.

Identity is a new way to understand politics. Identity arises out of the belief that we have an inner self that can be ignored or disparaged by society. Identity politics revolves around demands for recognition and dignity. Both nationalism and Islamism can be seen as manifestations of identity.

Assertions of identity tend to fracture societies into smaller identity groups. Although the new populist nationalists in Russia, Poland, Hungary, and other parts of Europe have tried to build solidarity with one another, they find their national interests in conflict.

Identity is both socially constructed and contestable. By contrast, cultures are fixed and nearly impossible to change. Identities are neither biologically rooted nor of ancient provenance.

Huntington said there were no universal values underlying liberal democracy. There is no reason to think liberal democracy will spread and take root around the world. Democracy spread to places like Japan or South Korea as a result of American power.

Democratic institutions are historically new. In big history, human institutions have evolved from tribes to city states to big industrial societies with complex state governance. This evolution occurred around the world in different cultures.

2018 September 1

Chemnitz Murder

Sue Reid

Daniel Hillig was killed in the early hours of last Sunday morning. As he took out money from a bank machine, a man ordered him to hand over his cash and credit card. He tried to run, but was stabbed five times and died on the pavement near the Karl Marx memorial in central Chemnitz.

Three summers ago, Angela Merkel invited Syrians embroiled in a civil war to come to Germany. More than a million migrants arrived in a matter of months.

One of them was Yousif, 22, an Iraqi Kurd who is being investigated for the murder of Daniel Hillig. Yousif was living in an asylum hostel and is now in police custody. He has a string of convictions for crimes committed as an asylum seeker and was listed for deportation back to Iraq.

Earlier this year, Susanna Feldman, 14, was raped and strangled and left dead in a wooded area near her home in Mainz. Her suspected killer is Ali Bashar, 29, an Iraqi Kurd who arrived in Germany like Yousif in 2015.

AfD leader Alice Weidel demanded that Merkel resign: "Susanna's death is not a blind stroke of fate. It is the result of many years of scandalous failure of our asylum and immigration policies."

Chemnitz Protests

Guy Chazan

Michael Kretschmer, CDU prime minister of the German state of Saxony, addressing a meeting in Chemnitz: "It's not a good thing to be in a demonstration where people are giving the Hitler salute."

The reaction was furious. One man: "You are making out that the worst thing that happened was the Nazi salute. The worst thing was that a bloke got killed."

Chemnitz has become a symbol of the relentless rise of the hard right in Germany. The people at the meeting accused politicians of tarring them all with the brush of Nazism and underplaying the threat of immigrant crime.

Chemnitz mayor Barbara Ludwig called on locals to live together in peace and was booed. When she said she took the issue of law and order seriously, a man in the audience shouted: "Hypocrite!"

Matthias Henke, a demonstrator, held a sign accusing the CDU of being traitors: "Merkel talks about maintaining law and order but people are being slaughtered on the streets. If things go on like this, we are heading for civil war."

AR Fortress Europe

A Theory of Everything

George Musser

"We won't have a theory of everything without a theory of consciousness."
David Chalmers

Integrated Information Theory (IIT) models a conscious system as a network of neurons or equivalent components. The theory says the system is conscious to the extent that its parts act together in harmony. The underlying premise is that conscious experience is psychologically unified, so the brain function that generates it should be unified, too.

To quantify the cohesion of a system and its claim to being conscious, the theory lays out a procedure to calculate the amount of collective information in the system. The theory need not be a full description of consciousness in order to be a useful tool.

The theory could help with the puzzles of emergence that arise in physics. The physical world has a hierarchical structure. Reductionists say higher-level descriptions are mere approximations and all the real action occurs at the bottom level.

IIT theorists look at activity on all scales, from the whole organism down to its smallest parts, and predict where the mind should reside. They ascribe consciousness to the scale where the collective information is maximized, on the assumption that the dynamics of this scale will preempt the others.

IIT network could be any of the multilayered systems we study. An approach based on IIT allows for the possibility that causation occurs on more than one level. Perhaps the root level of nature is random and all the laws of nature emerge only in the aggregate.

Physics and psychology have been at odds since the ancient Greeks. In a world governed by physical law, there seems to be little room for human agency. But perhaps the real action occurs at the psychological level.

Quantum theory says an object can exist in a superposition of possible states. A particle can be both here and there at the same time. The Copenhagen interpretation is that the superposition collapses when we observe the particle. The interpretation draws a Heisenberg cut between systems that obey quantum laws and observers that follow classical physics.

One reading of Copenhagen is that consciousness makes the cut. Because conscious experience is internally coherent, the mind cannot be in a superposition. If collapse is driven by consciousness, information integration might connect collapse to ideas we need to understand consciousness.

AR Mindworlds

Buzz Aldrin

Buzz Aldrin, photographed by Neil Armstrong on the Moon, July 1969

Two-ring EU

Fortress Europe

East Turkistan

child in the city
child in the city


With my sister and her husband,
Weymouth, Saturday


2018 August 31

First Man

Peter Bradshaw

Damien Chazelle directs the story of Neil Armstrong, starring Ryan Gosling and adapted from the
James R. Hansen biography. The living embodiment of the American century, Armstrong was the first man on the Moon, who came back and lived to see America lose interest in space travel.

Chazelle makes the Moon landing the climax and the main event. He elides the planting of the stars and stripes on the Moon but keeps the phrase Armstrong used: "That's one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind." The mystery of its composition is left untouched.

The film takes us through the slow build-up of the NASA mission, through the pain of failed launches, bungled tests, and the Apollo One cabin fire in 1967. It touches on whether a colossally expensive spaceshot is justified in times of hardship. Reason not the need.

AR Apollo was the peak experience of my teenage years. I watched Armstrong step out in a blurry image on TV on a ship in the Adriatic Sea.

Gateway To Mars

Robert Zubrin

Mars was once a warm and wet planet that could have evolved life. Putting humans on Mars would mobilize the imaginations of millions of young people. Mars has all the resources needed for human settlement.

Those making US space policy believe it is important for NASA human spaceflight program to have a goal. Mars is where the science is, Mars is where the challenge is, and Mars is where the future is. Mars should be the goal.

The Lunar Orbit Platform-Gateway will cost tens of billions of dollars and serve no useful purpose. We do not need the Gateway to go to the Moon, or to Mars, or to the asteroids.

AR We need the Gateway so that it can be defended by US Space Command. Like those fortified islands in the South China Sea, it stakes a claim.

2018 August 30


White House

President Donald J. Trump feels strongly that North Korea is under tremendous pressure from China because of our major trade disputes with the Chinese government. At the same time, we also know that China is providing North Korea with considerable aid .. This is not helpful!

AR Not helpful to whom?

Two-Ring Europe

The Times

French president Emmanuel Macron wants to use a summit in Austria next month to spell out a new structure for European alliances based on concentric circles, with the EZ at its core and the UK in a second ring.

EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier offers the UK an unprecedented trade deal that keeps ties as close as possible.

AR This is progress.

Nazi Germany

Michael Dirda

Peacetime Nazi Germany successfully promoted itself as the ideal place to vacation. By 1937 the number of American visitors to the Reich approached half a million per annum. It offered great scenery, lots of theater and music, delicious beer and sausages, the best universities in the world, and a youth culture fostering politeness, self-denial, physical health, team spirit, and patriotism.

Most tourists went home convinced the Führer was a man of peace, a German George Washington, as former British prime minister David Lloyd George called him. He was remaking Germany into a great nation. Frank Buchman, founder of the US religious group Moral Re-Armament: "Through such a man God could control a nation overnight and solve every last bewildering problem."

AR Oops!

2018 August 29

Chemnitz Riots

Der Spiegel

Chemnitz is a large city in the German state of Saxony. Foreigners made up 7.6% of the city's population at the beginning of 2018, of whom 2.4% were refugees. On Monday, several thousand people gathered in a rally at the city's iconic monument to Karl Marx.

Early on Sunday morning, 35-year-old Daniel H. was stabbed to death at a festival in the Chemnitz city center. Immediately, rumors began making the rounds on right-wing websites and social media platforms that the perpetrators were migrants and the focus of their anger soon came to rest on refugees.

A right-wing mob quickly gathered and began chasing people through the streets. The police sought to quell the unrest with two small units and were overrun. The police chief promised on Monday that wouldn't happen again. Hours later, police faced a bigger mob.

The violence started at 8 pm. Several hundred right-wing radicals pushed against a line of riot police. A firecracker exploded and glass bottles were thrown. The right-wingers marched through the city chanting:

"Deutschland für die Deutschen! Ausländer raus!"

Brexit: Final Say

Jonathan Shaw

Crashing out of the European Union without an agreement would lead to serious risks. The 2016 referendum result was a protest vote about all kinds of things including the EU. It was Britain's Arab Spring moment.

The people of the UK should be allowed to vote when the full detail of what is involved in Brexit is known. We now have more information. A vote after the talks have been concluded will allow people to make up their mind.

One can understand the dissatisfaction with the democratic deficit in the EU and the plan for an ever closer union. But there are other things to consider, including security, in which I believe it is better to be in the EU.

There would be major concerns on matters like intelligence sharing, on terrorism, hybrid warfare, and cyber threats. We need the help of other member states in this, and they need ours. There are a whole host of issues there, including data protection and differing laws.

The UK role in NATO will not be affected by Brexit. But one has to take the Trump factor into account. Other member states are now unsure on how much Europe can depend on the US administration. This should concern the UK as well.

AR As a former SAS chief, Shaw speaks with authority on security.

2018 August 28

China: Islamists Psycho

Sigal Samuel

A million Muslims are being held in Chinese internment camps. Communist Party: "Members of the public who have been chosen for reeducation have been infected by an ideological illness. They have been infected with religious extremism and violent terrorist ideology, and therefore they must seek treatment from a hospital as an inpatient."

China fears Uighurs in Xinjiang will try to establish a homeland of East Turkestan. In 2009, ethnic riots there led to hundreds of deaths, and there were terrorist attacks in recent years. The government says it needs to crack down on Uighur separatism and extremism.

Communist Party: "There is always a risk that the illness will manifest itself at any moment, which would cause serious harm to the public. That is why they must be admitted to a reeducation hospital in time to treat and cleanse the virus from their brain and restore their normal mind."

Recruitment ads for camp staff say experience in psychological training is a plus. Chinese websites describe psychologists treating extremism as a mental illness. This is not the first time China has used medical analogies to suppress a religious minority.

AR Good analogy, I think.

Brexit: France Responds

Rob Merrick

French president Emmanuel Macron has rejected a plea by UK prime minister Theresa May to rescue her Brexit plan. Macron: "France wants to maintain a strong, special relationship with London but not if the cost is the European Union's unravelling."

Downing Street: "We remain confident of securing a good deal that is firmly in the interests of both the UK and the EU."

AR Hold a second referendum now.

Brexit: Japan Despairs

Financial Times

Japanese companies are frustrated by UK government double talk on Brexit.

Keidanren chairman Hiroaki Nakanishi: "We just can't do anything. Everyone is seriously concerned. Various scenarios get discussed, from no Brexit to plunging into Brexit without any kind of deal at all. We're now in a situation where we have to consider what to do in all of them."

Keidanren represents more than a thousand Japanese companies. Nakanishi: "Please keep the current economic environment as much as possible, including the customs union. If you don't, then it will clearly hinder economic activity in the UK."

AR Let EEA membership be a minimum.

Brexit: Global Trade

Rafael Behr

UK prime minister Theresa May set off today on a trip to sub-Saharan Africa: "As we prepare to leave the European Union, now is the time for the UK to deepen and strengthen its global partnerships."

Brexiteers say 90% of global growth in the coming decade will be outside the EU. EU members cannot sign bilateral agreements but are party to deals the EU negotiates. The most recent, in July, was with Japan.

There is no system for replicating those agreements after Brexit. WTO rules cannot sustain trade at its current level. They mask a failure to grasp the value of EU membership.

AR Abandon Brexit, say sorry.

Brexit: No Deal

Gideon Rachman

Hardline Brexiteers regard Theresa May's Brexit plan as betrayal and would prefer no deal.
Remainers hope fear of no deal could provoke a political crisis that stops Brexit altogether.
The European Commission sees no deal as preferable to compromising its basic principles.

They are all deluded. They risk jointly unleashing a dangerous crisis. A bitter rift between the EU and the UK would be geopolitical madness.

AR Madness, I agree.

2018 August 27

American Corruption

Peter Wehner

Donald Trump has changed Republican attitudes to ethics and political leadership.

Republicans say character counts in public life. When the president's longtime lawyer implicated Trump in criminal activity and his former campaign chairman was convicted on financial fraud charges, most Republicans in Congress were either silent or came to Trump's defense. The party has hitched its wagon to the most corrupt individual who has ever been elected president.

The moral indictment against Trump is overwhelming. Corruption is evident in his private and public life, in how he has treated his wives, in his business dealings and scams, in his pathological lying and cruelty, in his bullying and shamelessness, and in his appeals to the darkest impulses of Americans. It was delusional to think he would change for the better once he became president.

If politics is unbounded by morality, then the whole enterprise will collapse.

Final Message


The late senator John McCain chose former US presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush to eulogize him and didn't want Donald Trump at his funeral.

McCain saw Trump's unpresidential demeanor, populist style, and MAGA outlook as antithetical to America's founding values and global role.

Religious Facts

Harriet Sherwood

More than 4 in 5 of the world's population identifies with a religious group. They are generally younger and produce more children than the others. Those with no religious affiliation gave birth to only about 1 in 10 of babies between 2010 and 2015.

Christians form the biggest religious group, at 2.3 billion in a total world population of 7.3 billion. Muslims come next at 1.8 billion. There are 1.1 billion Hindus, 500 million Buddhists, and only 14 million Jews in the world.

Religion is on the wane in Western Europe and North America, but growing everywhere else. Islam is growing more than twice as fast as the overall global population. Christianity is likely to lose its top spot to Islam by mid-century.

China is undergoing a religious revival. The number of Chinese Protestants is now around 100 million, with another 10 million Catholics. China could have the world's largest Christian population by 2030.

Hinduism is ancient and dates back to about 9 ky BP. Judaism dates back to about 4 ky BP and Zoroastrianism to 3.5 ky BP. Shinto, Buddhism, Jainism, Confucianism, and Taoism go back to about 2.6 ky BP, Christianity to 2 ky BP, and Islam to 1.4 ky BP.

Today, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Yemen are Islamic theocracies, and 27 countries enshrine Islam as their state religion.

The only Christian theocracy is Vatican City, but 13 countries designate Christianity or a Christian denomination as their state religion. In England, the Church of England is the established church. In America, Donald Trump has the support of white evangelical Christians.

Hostility and violence are driving Christians out of the Mideast. Islamophobia is on the rise in Europe.

AR The Galilean awakening dates back 0.4 ky BP.

2018 August 26

On The Future

Martin Rees

We will have a bumpy ride through this century and we will be lucky if we escape some catastrophic setbacks. We are putting greater pressure on the environment and we are running up against what the planet can cope with. And new technologies are going to empower small groups or individuals to have an effect globally. The global village will have its village idiots.

We have to worry about the misuse of biotech. It is surprisingly easy to make the influenza virus more virulent and more transmissible. By error or terror, things of that kind are going to lead to some sort of pandemic.

The Black Death killed half the population of Europe, but the rest just went on as before. Now if we had some sort of fatal pandemic, once it overwhelmed the capacity of hospitals, there would be social breakdown.

I don't buy worries about AI expanding and taking over the universe. Our evolution has required both intelligence and a certain degree of aggression. There is no particular reason why intelligent machines should be aggressive.

We need more people as carers. These people now are in short supply. Rich people have human beings to look after them, and we need to provide that for everyone. Failure to respond to this humanitarian imperative surely casts doubt on any claims of institutional moral progress.

Governments respond with torpor to the climate threat because concerns about future generations and about people in poorer parts of the world tend to slip down the agenda.

We will edit the genome so that whatever entities are around in two or three centuries may not understand us. They may have some algorithmic understanding of how we behaved, but they won't resonate with our literature to the extent that we resonate with classical literature.

There is no reason whatever to think we humans are the culmination of evolution. We know as astronomers that the future is more extensive than the 4 billion years Earth has existed. The big transition in our time may lead to genetic modification and takeover by electronic intelligence.

Welcome to the future, humans. Or not. Who on Earth do you think you are?

Asian Arms Race

Financial Times

Annual defence spending in Asia Pacific has more than doubled since the turn of the century to $450 billion, more than $200 billion of that by China. The region is forecast to surpass North America as the world's biggest spender on weapons by 2029.

This year, global defense spending is forecast to rise 3.3% to $1.7 trillion, a post-cold war high. The United States is budgeting to spend $717 billion on defense in 2019, an almost 8% year-on-year increase. China is scheduled to spend $207 billion this year, consolidating its position as the world's second-largest defense spender.

In Japan, the government under prime minister Shinzo Abe approved a ¥5.19 trillion defence budget, still below 1% of GDP. Japan will buy cruise missiles for its F-35 stealth fighter jets, to enable them to strike targets in North Korea and China.

In South Korea, 3 in 5 South Koreans favor building nuclear weapons, while 68% favor redeploying US tactical nuclear weapons. A breakdown in talks between Washington and Pyongyang could reignite the nuclear debate.

Australia plans to increase defense spending from 1.6% of GDP in 2012 to 2% of GDP by 2020-21 and plans to spend A$200 billion ($147 billion) on military hardware over the next decade.

India, the United States, Japan, and Australia have re-instituted the Quad to counterbalance China.

2018 August 25

Trump End Game

Eliot A. Cohen

Donald Trump could hang on until the 2020 election. He could be reelected and march off into a glitzy retirement at Trump properties in Florida and New Jersey. It seems more likely that he will go down in disgrace.

A tyrant is unloved. Although the laws and institutions of the United States have proven a brake on Trump, his spirit remains tyrannical, knowing no moral restraint, expecting fealty and giving none. Such people can exert power for a long time.

The normal course of events is sudden, epic desertion. The figure who loomed over everything is suddenly left shrunken and pitiful, a wretched little man in gaudy robes absurdly too big for him, a figure of ridicule more than hatred.

For the moment, the Republicans fear to turn on Trump. But if they suffer a slaughter on election day, the remnants of the knights of the GOP will know a greater fear. When they are ready, they will turn on the tyrant.

Nothe Fort

Nothe Fort

Aeolus mission to measure
Earth global wind profiles
launched from Guiana
Space Center

President Trump
Christian freedom fighter?

Aretha Franklin
Aretha Franklin

"When a thousand people
believe some made-up story
for a month − that's fake news.
When a billion people believe
it for a thousand years
− that's a religion."
Yuval Noah Harari

Borg Queen BORG

Fortress Europe


2018 August 24

Global Tech Supremacy

James Kynge

Chinese president Xi Jinping says China will blaze its own trail to become a technology superpower.

The Made in China 2025 program calls for global leadership in various tech sectors by 2025. Beijing is telling Chinese companies to cut reliance on US tech and IP by relying on Europe, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and elsewhere. China will reduce reliance on US imports in its supply chain and achieve global excellence in tech sectors including AI, 5G, IoT, self-driving cars, and battery tech.

The changes may apply only to imports from the US and not to components made by US companies in China. The value of products that US companies made and sold in China was about $250 billion last year, with only $130 billion in direct US imports.

In 8 of 11 tech sectors, sales in Asia of products made in the EU, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan outstrip those of products made in America. US dominance is clearest in semiconductors and aerospace. Of some $300 billion committed to help deliver Made in China 2025, some $150 billion is earmarked to upgrade Chinese capacity in semiconductors.

Despite US opposition, China will continue its climb up the tech ladder.

AR In the long term, China will replace America as global #1.

Brexit Cost

The Times

UK chancellor Philip Hammond has released official estimates of the cost of leaving the EU without a deal. A "no deal" Brexit would reduce UK GDP by 7.7% over 15 years and add about £80 billion to borrowing by 2033.

He said the estimates are being refined: "We expect the analysis to show that for scenarios in which we have higher barriers to trade with the EU there will be a more damaging effect on the economy and public."

AR Hold a new referendum. Roll back this madness.

2018 August 23

Black Hole Fuzzballs


According to general relativity, a black hole singularity is an infinitely dense and tiny dot that anything nearby falls straight in, leaving no trace. Its event horizon is a spherical boundary that marks the point of no return from the rest of the universe. For a big hole, a falling Alice could cross the event horizon without noticing.

String theorists reconsidered what happens to the information falling into a black hole. Information is conserved in quantum mechanics. They ended up saying the event horizon is a wall of fire.

Strings fluff up when enough of them are packed into a small space. An extremely dense object forms a fuzzball that looks from afar like an ordinary black hole. This changes the way it radiates and solves the information puzzle.

Samir Mathur asked what would happen to Alice as she fell onto a fuzzball. For a big one, the way the fuzzball expands as new stuff falls in keeps it cool, and she has almost no chance of burning up at the event horizon. You'd have to shrink a fuzzball down to nuclear size before she burned up.

Mathur: "If you jump onto [fuzzballs] in one description, you break up into little strings. That's the splat picture. If you look carefully at what [the strings] are doing, they're actually spreading in a very coherent ball."

The next step is to describe the fuzzball surface at the quantum level.

2018 August 22

Trump Setbacks

The New York Times

President Trump's attempts to dismiss the criminal investigations that have engulfed his White House have all but collapsed.

His former lawyer Michael Cohen admitted in court that Trump directed him to break campaign finance laws by paying off two women who said they had sex with Trump.

His former campaign chairman Paul Manafort was found guilty of 8 counts of tax and bank fraud.

Special counsel Robert Mueller is methodically investigating whether Trump and members of his campaign conspired with a foreign power to win the election and whether the president tried to obstruct the investigation from the White House.

In November, the congressional elections could hobble the second half of this presidency. Trump risks impeachment in Congress even if the sprawling Russia investigation never definitively concludes that there was collusion or obstruction of justice.

Republican strategist Rob Stutzman: "I think impeachment is now squarely going to define the midterms."

2018 August 21

Fortress Europe

Andy Ross

Europe has a problem with immigrants and Islam that we need to discuss. This is the big statement of Douglas Murray's book The Strange Death of Europe. He may be right, but he has no solution and his argument needs recasting from start to finish.

If we widen the context of the argument to include the historic role of science and German culture in Europe and the world, we can see more clearly what sort of problem Muslim immigration really poses. I think Europeans are up to the challenge.

But the clock is ticking, the tide is rising, and a happy ending still seems far away ..

PDF: 10 pages, 144 KB

2018 August 20

European Immigration

Tony Barber

There is a refugee and migrant question in Europe. Measured by the numbers of migrants arriving this year, there is no crisis. Measured by the impact on European politics, there is a serious one.

This crisis shows in debates about national identity and the place of Islam in Europe. It generates support for radical rightwing parties, it undermines coalition governments, it paralyses efforts to reform the EU and strengthen its EZ core, and it harms the EU's reputation.

Just over 60,000 migrants and refugees crossed the Mediterranean into Europe this year up to last week. The EU's population is over half a billion. Yet 38% of EU citizens regard immigration as the most important issue facing the bloc, compared with 29% for terrorism.

Attitudes across the EU differ from nation to nation. The Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia, and Slovakia, have the strongest feelings and the fewest asylum seekers. Politicians whip up anti-immigrant prejudice in Hungary and Poland especially, but also in Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden, and the UK.

In June, EU leaders discussed setting up centres for irregular arrivals in Europe and regional disembarkation arrangements for people rescued at sea. The leaders aired their ideas without agreeing which EU countries might construct such centres and without holding prior talks with north African governments.

Anti-immigrant demagoguery has become part and parcel of European politics.

AR Look out for my forthcoming paper on the subject.

2018 August 19

Climate Change

Johan Rockström

People will look back on 2018 as the year when climate reality hit. People are starting to realise that global warming is not a problem for future generations, but for us now.

Our hothouse paper came out at a time when temperatures in Germany reached 38 C. But this is just the beginning. Hothouse emissions are also killing the forests and oceans that might ease the impact.

The time to get up and leave your comfort zone is now.

AR Replace my car? What with?

Religious Freedom

The New York Times

The Trump administration has a political agenda that emphasizes the American strain of evangelical Christianity over other beliefs. It is also pursuing immigration and foreign aid policies that belie its stated defense of religious rights.

The administration took its advocacy of religious liberty to a new level with a conference headlined by VP Mike Pence. Evangelicals such as Pence are increasingly promoting religious freedom as "our first freedom" ahead of goals such as equal rights for workers and women.

The Trump administration needs to embrace a broader vision of human rights.

AR Promoting America the Christian nation invites a clash of civilizations.

Brexit: No Deal

The Atlantic

The forecast for a no-deal Brexit looks grim. Brexit secretary Dominic Raab says the government will ensure "adequate food supplies" and health secretary Matt Hancock confirms that the NHS will prepare to stockpile medicines.

Foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt said leaving without a deal would be "a huge geostrategic mistake .. we would regret for generations" but then tweeted: "Britain WOULD survive and prosper without a deal .. We will only sign up to deal that respects referendum result."

AR Square the circle: hold a new referendum.

2018 August 18

One Field To Rule Them All

New Scientist

Florian Goertz dreams of solving five big problems in physics at once:

1 The strong CP problem is that the strong force should violate CP symmetry in some situations.
    A new field to counter the unseen symmetry violation would have a particle we call the axion.
2 The six quarks have hugely different masses but you might expect them to be similar. A flavon
    field introduces a symmetry broken by the quarks. The particle of the flavon field has a
    component that looks like an axion.
3 This union of axion and flavon — an "axiflavon" — could also be the yet unseen inflaton.
4 The axion is an alternative dark matter candidate.
5 The Higgs boson is lighter than we expected. Union with the axiflavon might explain this.

One new field might clean up all five problems.

2018 August 17

A Free Press

The New York Times

Thomas Jefferson, 1787: "Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter."

Twenty years later, he felt differently: "Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle."

Criticizing the news media is entirely right. News reporters and editors are human, and make mistakes. But insisting that truths you dislike are fake news and calling journalists the enemy of the people are dangerous.


John Brennan

In 2016, Russian internal security service head Alexander Bortnikov told me Russia was not interfering in the US presidential election. I knew he was lying. I was well aware of Russia's ability to work surreptitiously within the United States.

James Comey and I talked about the potential for US citizens to be pawns in Russian hands. We knew that Russian intelligence services would do all they could to achieve their objectives. We pledged that our agencies would share any information we collected.

Donald Trump's claims of no collusion are hogwash. Trump is desperate to protect himself. He revoked my security clearance in an attempt to scare others into silence. Robert Mueller and his team must be allowed to complete their work.

2018 August 16


Alex Wagner

As Americans have left organized religion, they still view politics as a struggle between us and them. Many have come to define us and them in more primal and pugnacious ways.

This tribalism has infected white working class Americans. Culturally conservative white Americans who are disengaged from church experience less economic success and more family breakdown than those who remain connected.

Go to a Trump rally, speak to Trump supporters, and their devotion is nearly evangelical. Their declining economic position may have made bourgeois moral logic less attractive. The Church of Trump is a gathering place for castoffs with a worldview that has been a mark of shame.

Trump: "There is so much love in every room I go to .. We want our country to be great again, and we know it can be done!"


Richard Milne

The Sweden Democrats (SD) are an anti-immigration, populist rightwing party.

In Swedish elections on September 9, the SD are hoping for a political earthquake. Opinion polls give them over 20% of the vote. They look likely to become kingmakers and challengers to the centrist blocs that have ruled for decades.

The election results will be watched closely across Europe. Sweden has long prided itself on being open to immigrants and as offering a generous welfare state. The SD message is that welfare provisions are under threat from immigration.

A surge in SD support in 2016 and 2017 led to tighter rules on immigration. In 2018 the SD is becoming more popular. An early SD slogan was "Keep Sweden Swedish" but the party is more moderate than when it was founded in 1988.

Most of the election debate has been on immigration, integration, and crime.


Michael Binyon

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has antagonised his NATO partners. He supports Islamist movements and sent his forces into Syria to fight against US-backed forces. Last year he signed a missile deal with Moscow and is seeking closer ties to Russia and China.

The Trump administration has hardened its approach. The US Senate has refused to authorise Turkey's request to buy F-35 fighter aircraft. Trump is raising US tariffs on Turkish steel and aluminum exports to America.

Erdogan reacted by accusing Trump of stabbing his strategic partner in the back. Last year, he accused Germany and the Netherlands of behaving like Nazis. He threatens to tear up his agreement with the EU on limiting the flow of migrants to Europe.

There is no appetite in NATO to see Turkey leave. The country became a member in 1952 and has the second largest army in the alliance. Turkey played a vital role in the Cold War and the Incirlik airbase in southern Turkey remains a key NATO base.

2018 August 15

Nearest Neighbor Problem Solved

Kevin Hartnett

Given a data set and a new data point, the nearest neighbor (NN) problem is to find which point in the data set is closest to the new point. A team of researchers has found new solutions.

The incommensurability of different distance metrics is a challenge. An NN algorithm that works for one metric fails for another. The standard approach is to partition your data recursively into subgroups until you have a partition that contains just two points: your new point and its NN.

Various algorithms exist for drawing these partitions. For low-dimensional data, Voronoi diagrams solve NN exactly. For higher-dimensional data, locality sensitive hashing (LSH) draws partitions randomly. LSH algorithms give approximate NN solutions for some distance metrics.

The team asked how NN algorithms relate to distance metrics. The distance between two points on a graph is the minimum number of lines you need to cross to get from one point to the other. An expander graph is well connected and you cannot do a fast NN search on expander graphs.

They asked if good NN algorithms were impossible for other distance metrics. They proved expander graphs do not embed into normed spaces and found fast NN algorithms for normed spaces.

2018 August 14


Fareed Zakaria

Steve Bannon says the Trump revolution was started by the financial crisis of 2008. A decade-on history of the crash of 1929 would have come in 1939. We still live in the aftermath of both.

By 2007, many saw warning signs of a crash. They pointed to US government deficits and debt or China, but not to a meltdown on Wall Street driven by toxic securitized subprime mortgages.

It was not just a US problem. The European and American financial systems were deeply intertwined. The enormous expansion of the global financial system had largely been a transatlantic project.

Bannon is right. The crash raised many issues — stagnant wages, widening inequality, anger about immigration, and distrust of elites and government — and supercharged them. The result we see.

No government handled the 2008 crisis better than that of the United States. Yet the backlash to the bailouts has hit hardest in the United States. The Trump presidency is the current crisis.

AR The 2008 crash was like Titanic hitting the iceberg. A few years later we think the world is recovering. But the catastrophe is taking time to unfold.


Andy Clark

Artificial intelligences outperform us at many tasks and can train themselves.
The controlled use of hallucinogenics may soon be part of mainstream therapy.
Sex and companionship robots are already here.
Entirely new forms of sensory perception are becoming possible.
The human genome is now an object of control and intervention.
Gender is becoming more visibly fluid than ever before.
One new tool will be immersive interactive virtual realities.
Cellphones and tablets are being used to help offset biological damage.
Sports for people with disabilities are expanding images of health and fitness.
Neuro-enhancement is possible and may soon become the norm.

To live in this kind of emerging world is to live in a world of remarkable personal and social possibility. Sharing and group solidarity are now easier than ever before. Human intelligence is poised for repair and reinvention, becoming fluid, as digital overlays augment reality with personalized pointers, in a world permeated by a growing swath of alien intelligences.

All this blurs the boundaries between body and machine, between mind and world, between standard reality, AR and VR, and between human and Borg. Inclusivities of one kind bump up against the threat of new forms of exclusivity.

We need to get used to the alien and pervasive reach of the subintelligences that now surround us. These are not yet intelligences like our own. But some of their great potential lies in how we work with them to become cyborgs.

We now glimpse the next steps in human cultural and cognitive evolution. We will find it hard to decide in a world of so many possible ways of being which ones are for us. We will need to update law and social policy.

AR Andy glosses the upside. The Borg collective will kill feral humans.

2018 August 13

Fortress Europe

Kenan Malik

Wherever you look in Europe, mainstream politicians are cracking down on migrants. At the start of migrant crisis, there was sympathy with the plight of the migrants and a willingness to help them practically. Much of that sympathy has ebbed away.

Chaos in the migrant camps is a deliberate message to other potential migrants. The harsher the conditions, the greater the deterrent for other refugees and migrants who seek a route into the EU. The issue has been framed to cast immigration as a symbol of unacceptable change.

Politicians recognise a need for immigration. They also promote the idea of immigration as a social problem that must be dealt with. Yet they often express disdain for those who express anxieties and fears about immigration, presenting them as bigots and racists. This poisonous mixture of necessity, fear, and contempt has helped both to stigmatise migrants and create public hostility toward the liberal elite for ignoring popular views.

Freedom of movement has spawned paranoia about the movement of people into the EU. The quid pro quo for Schengen has been the creation of a Fortress Europe, a citadel against immigration. Frontex, the EU border agency, uses the language of defending Europe against an enemy.

Fortress Europe is not only a physical barrier around the continent but an emotional one too. Migrants have come to be seen less as human beings than as so much flotsam and jetsam to be swept away from European beaches. EU immigration policy is seen as saving the continent from invasion.

AR Sounds like the EU is responding well.

Right On!

Steve Bannon

There is obviously a need for a more populist party in the UK. The party can be populist, nationalist, and want to thwart radical Islamic doctrine and Islamic supremacism without being anti-Muslim.

Tommy Robinson is not just a guy but a movement in and of himself now. He represents the working class and channels a lot of the frustration of everyday, blue-collar Britons. He is a force of nature, not built to be managed.

Boris Johnson understands the physics in the ebb and flow of events. Those individuals are rare. Boris admires Winston Churchill and wrote a compelling book about him. What he most admired was Churchill's courage and his "action this day" mentality. Boris has potential to be a great prime minister, not a good one.

Donald Trump understands the power to shape the modern world through mass communications. His power is that he gets the policy right and then he hammers the messaging. The power lies in that combination.

AR Boris and Trump — Tweedledum and Tweedledee.

US−Turkey Crisis

Recep Tayyip Erdogan

For the past six decades, Turkey and the United States have been strategic partners and NATO allies. Our two countries stood shoulder to shoulder against common challenges during the Cold War and in its aftermath. They fought together in Korea. In the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks, we sent our troops to Afghanistan to help accomplish the NATO mission there.

Yet the United States has repeatedly and consistently failed to understand and respect the Turkish people's concerns. On July 15, 2016, Turkey came under attack by a group that tried to stage a coup and took the lives of 251 innocent people. The Turkish people expected the United States to condemn the attack. It did not: The US reaction was far from satisfactory.

My government has repeatedly shared our concerns with US officials about their decision to train and equip PKK allies in Syria. Unilateral actions against Turkey by the United States will only serve to undermine US interests and security. Washington must reverse this trend of unilateralism and disrespect, or we will start looking for new friends and allies.

AR To explain persistent US-UK misunderstanding of Turkey, see Lawrence of Arabia.

PSP launch

PSP launch, Cape Canaveral, Sunday

Doraemon, Hello Kitty

Boris Johnson The Times
Churchill, Trump, Bozo?

Analysis shows voters
in most constituencies
now favour remaining
in the EU

Cumrun Vafa Hayward Photography
Cumrun Vafa


No Deal Brexit
has nothing to offer but
blood, toil, tears
and sweat

Parker Solar Probe


2018 August 12


Pico Iyer

In the North Korean capital Pyongyang, one of our minders — there were 4 or 5 for the 14 of us, with a camera trained on our every move for what we were assured was a souvenir video — kept saying, "You think I'm a government spy, don't you?"

North Korea raises questions about what being human involves. The people around me clearly wept and bled and raged as I did, but they were not permitted to leave their hometown or say what they think. Many of us in the freer world now imprison ourselves behind screens, but for most of us this is a choice we can unmake tomorrow.

In Japan, the government has appointed Hello Kitty and Doraemon as cultural ambassadors. Lines between animate and inanimate run differently in an animist Shinto universe where every blade of grass or speck of dust is believed to have a spirit. Even the dead are treated as human in Japan.

The first time I visited North Korea, 24 years earlier, my guide showed me the skyscrapers and boulevards his government had created out of what 35 years before had been rubble, a demolished city. As my guide kept waving goodbye while I passed through immigration, I felt no one can deprive us of our humanity but ourselves.

AR In Japan 37 years ago, I too was minded much of the time — by friendly locals who were genuinely concerned for my welfare — for me a year of psychedelic joy.

BoJo: Way to No 10

Camilla Cavendish

Fear and loathing of Boris Johnson has hamstrung the parliamentary Conservative party since Brexit. No one is sure why he pulled back from seeking the leadership in 2016.

Conservatives used to view Boris as a winner. As mayor of multicultural London he was the man for all seasons and all tastes. He wanted an amnesty for illegal immigrants and was proud of his Turkish heritage.

Brexit changed everything. Boris took a long time to decide which side to back in the EU referendum, but since then he has become more extreme. The grassroots Conservative membership still like his style, but parliamentary Leavers and Remainers alike are sick of his constant manoeuvring.

Boris may fear that as we get closer to leaving the EU, his value diminishes. After Brexit, the party may be looking for a moderniser with a new face to push a radical domestic agenda. So Boris needs to move against the prime minister before March.

AR Let him do it, cause chaos, and force a new referendum.

Brexit: Ask the People

Vince Cable

Go back to the public and ask: "Is this what you really want, or do you want to stay in the EU and reform it from within?"

It is perfectly normal in countries that have a tradition of referendums to have confirmatory votes at the end. It is difficult when you have had a public vote for parliament to overturn it. I think there is a need to go back to the public, to have proper democratic legitimacy.

The public is moving in our direction. Polls in the last few days show a 10-point margin between those who favour a fresh vote as opposed to those against. The centre of gravity is moving.

AR Hard or soft, Brexit is bad shit.

2018 August 11

The Swampland Conjecture

Natalie Wolchover

Cumrun Vafa conjectures a formula dictating which kinds of universes can exist and which are forbidden in string theory. If it holds, the cosmos must either be profoundly different than previously supposed or string theory must be wrong.

String theory has a landscape of 10500 solutions. It predicts 10 dimensions, 6 of them compactified, and the landscape contains all possible compactifications. Gravitation tends to squeeze the compact dimensions, whereas other fields tend to push outward. In stable solutions, these effects balance via negative vacuum energy, producing anti-de Sitter (adS) universes.

Vafa's conjecture is that as the universe expands, the vacuum energy density must decrease faster than a certain rate. The rule appears to hold in all simple string model universes. But it contradicts both the presently accepted view of cosmic expansion and the theory of primordial inflation.

Vafa says universes with stable, constant, positive vacuum energy (de Sitter universes) are impossible. If he is right, they lie not in the landscape but in a swampland: "The things that look consistent but ultimately are not consistent, I call them swampland. They almost look like landscape; you can be fooled by them. You think you should be able to construct them, but you cannot."

The swampland conjecture predicts that in all possible universes the vacuum energy must either be falling or have a stable negative value, as in quintessence models. Telescope experiments are looking for evidence of cosmic deceleration.

2018 August 10

Love Trip

Galen Strawson

Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann took the first acid trip. Serious research on the clinical potential of LSD began in 1950. Hippies brought psychedelics into disrepute.

Aldous Huxley: "What came through the closed door was the realization — not the knowledge, for this wasn't verbal or abstract — but the direct, total awareness, from the inside, so to say, of Love as the primary and fundamental cosmic fact. The words, of course, have a kind of indecency and must necessarily ring false, seem like twaddle. But the fact remains. I was this fact; or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that this fact occupied the place where I had been."

A researcher in 1963: "My awareness was flooded with love, beauty, and peace beyond anything I ever had known or imagined to be possible."

There are thousands of such reports. If this is what psychedelic experience is like, or very often like, in good conditions, it certainly can't be assimilated to belief in the omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent (OOO) God of mainstream Christianity. That belief is morally obscene.

There seems to be a deeper psychological formation underneath the experience of love. The best name for it, perhaps, is Acceptance: profound acquiescence in how things are, acceptance of life, acceptance of death, and experience of great joy.

Acceptance seems tightly linked with dissolution of the sense of self, or at least of its importance. Neuroscientists scanning the tripping brain find dramatic reduction in the activity in the default mode network (DMN, a.k.a. "the me network"). Those who think the DMN is a suspect construct can think instead of activity in the medial prefrontal cortex, posterior cingulate cortex, inferior parietal lobule, lateral temporal cortex, dorsal medial prefrontal cortex, and hippocampus.

Alison Gopnik: "Babies and children are basically tripping all the time."

Maturation renders the brain fit for purpose in a difficult world by imposing a mental filter. Psychedelic drugs remove the filter. A single dose can have lasting effects.

AR Acceptance — submission — Islam. Thank you, Galen.

2018 August 9


Ross Douthat

The years since 2008 have seen a steepening decline in the share of college students majoring in English, philosophy, religion, history, and similar pursuits. The sciences and engineering have gained at the expense of humanism.

This acceleration is no doubt partially driven by economic concerns. But as with childbearing, which had seemed to stabilize but now is in decline again, the decline of the humanities suggests that wider cultural shifts have left them ripe for collapse.

Many conservatives blame the humanists for being politicized and for pursuing postmodernist obscurantism. It may be more useful to step back and recognize both politicization and postmodern jargon as attempted solutions to a deeper problem.

In an Apollonian culture, eager for useful knowledge and technical mastery and increasingly indifferent to memory and allergic to tradition, the poet and the novelist and the theologian struggle to find an official justification for their arts. The turns toward radical politics and high theory are attempts by humanists in the academy to supply that justification.

Both attempts seem to have failed. What sustained their brief cultural moment:
A religious element that rooted humanism in its understanding of human life
A Communist rival that pushed the Apollonian model to an inhuman dead end
A sense of Western identity and tradition that escaped the grip of the now

This combination is not recoverable. A hopeful roadmap to humanist recovery:
A return of serious academic interest in the value of religious claims
A regained sense of history as a repository of wisdom and example
A cultural recoil from the tyranny of the digital and the virtual


Steven Nadler

Harold Cook: "Descartes' body was necessary only for carrying around his mind, which concentrated on the important work of thinking."

Descartes was a scientist. He believed that in order for disciplines like physics to achieve absolute certainty, they needed to be put on secure and indubitable foundations. His metaphysics of mind and body rendered the phenomena of nature amenable to strictly mechanistic explanations.

Descartes: "Philosophy is like a tree. The roots are metaphysics, the trunk is physics, and the branches emerging from the trunk are all the other sciences, which may be reduced to three principal ones, namely medicine, mechanics, and morals."

Descartes left Paris in 1629 to settle permanently in the Dutch Republic. Friends of his friends had backed an uprising against the king.

Ban the Burka

Taj Hargey

Boris Johnson is justified in reminding everyone that the fad of female facial masking has no Koranic legitimacy. It is a nefarious component of a trendy gateway theology for religious extremism and militant Islam.

The burka and niqab are hideous tribal garments that are pre-Islamic, non-Koranic, and un-Muslim. Although this deliberate identity-concealing contraption is banned at the Kaaba in Mecca it is permitted in Britain.

The retrogressive Islamic clergy is a toxic patriarchy controlling women. Many younger women have internalised this poisonous chauvinism by asserting that it is their human right to hide their faces.

Britain must emulate France, Belgium, Austria, Bulgaria, and Denmark in banning the burka.

AR The burka is a symbol of foul oppression paraded by innocents. In this respect it resembles the swastika, which should also be banned from public display except in historical contexts.

2018 August 8

Johnson Joke

The Guardian

Boris Johnson is no longer foreign secretary. His letter-box joke about Muslim women who wear the burqa does not come with the imprimatur of the British government.

Johnson was not interested in a discussion about the burqa. He craves the Conservative leadership, a job which too many members of his party think he would do well.

Mesmerised by Brexit and the prejudices that drive it, the Conservative party is turning its back on the parts of the population that do not think this way.

Boris Johnson and his backers are chasing a dream of a flag-waving, small-state, free-market utopia inhabited by people like them. Stop them!

AR See my July essay on BoJo.

NASA Mission to the Sun


In 1958, Eugene Parker said the Sun emits a steady stream of hot particles he called the solar wind. Over the next 60 years, NASA explored the entire solar system except the Sun.

On August 11, the Parker Solar Probe is due to blast off on a Delta IV heavy-lift rocket from Cape Canaveral. Its 7-year mission: to help us understand how our star works. NASA astrophysicist Nicholeen Viall: "The sun is a natural lab that we cannot reproduce on Earth."

NASA had to engineer a heat shield capable of protecting the cameras, particle sampler, and devices to measure electric and magnetic fields that fill the probe. The heat shield is made of two layers of a carbon composite with a carbon aerofoam core and weighs only 72 kg.

The flight trajectory will make 24 turns around the Sun and 7 close flybys of Venus to set the probe on a spiral orbit that passes only 6 Gm from the solar surface. When the mission ends in 7 years, the craft will run out of fuel and burn up.

The mission is designed to answer a few questions:
Why is the solar wind occasionally powerful enough to wreak havoc on Earth?
Why does the wind speed up so that by the time it reaches us it is supersonic?
Why is the solar corona so hot, about 300 times hotter than the stellar surface?

Viall: "Ultimately, the .. solar wind is powered by the Sun's magnetic field. Somehow the magnetic field is building up energy, storing it in the solar atmosphere, and then releasing it."

The first useful data is due back in December.

Science denial

California fire
Californian apocalypse

Portugual fire
Slavoj Zizek
As temperatures rise over 50 C
we see we are just another
species living on Earth.
Our acts have longer

James Cook
Royal Mail
A forefather of mine
on the distaff side

Apple Apple worth $1012

What Would Winston Do? AR
Can Boris save the day?

State of the Climate 2017

Global surface temperatures
in 2017 were 0.43 ± 0.05 K
above the 1981−2010 average.
The 10 warmest years on
record have all occurred
since 1998 and the four
warmest since 2014.

Luo Yang
Luo Yang

What is Real?
The unfinished quest for the
meaning of quantum physics
By Adam Becker
— my Amazon review


2018 August 7

Hothouse Earth

Will Steffen et al.

There is a risk that positive feedbacks could push the Earth climate system toward a planetary threshold that, if crossed, could prevent stabilization and cause continued warming on a "Hothouse Earth" trajectory.

Crossing the threshold would lead to a much higher global average temperature than any interglacial in the past 1.2 million years and to sea levels significantly higher than at any time in the Holocene.

We examine the evidence that such a threshold might exist and where it might be. If the threshold is crossed, the resulting trajectory would likely cause serious disruptions to ecosystems, society, and economies.

Collective human action is required to steer the Earth system away from a potential threshold and stabilize it in a habitable state. Such action entails stewardship of the entire Earth system.

Co-author Johan Rockström: "I do hope we are wrong, but as scientists we have a responsibility to explore whether this is real .. In the context of the summer of 2018, this is definitely not a case of crying wolf."

AR We need global governance now.

California Burning

William Finnegan

In Los Angeles, fire season now stretches into December. US fire seasons are on average 78 days longer than they were in 1970. Wildfires burn twice the area they did 30 years ago.

Climate change has brought longer, hotter summers and a series of devastating droughts, priming landscapes to burn. The US Forest Service spent 16% of its budget on fire suppression in 1995. In 2015, it spent $2.6 billion, more than half of its budget.

Aviation has an important part to play in certain types of fire suppression. Commanders on the ground have learned that it can be good to let the governor or congressperson appear to be riding to the rescue of his constituents with air power, no matter how expensive and unhelpful it may be.

The Arctic is heating up twice as fast as the rest of the globe. The size, frequency, range, and intensity of wildfires in Alaska and northern Canada have increased far more rapidly than in lower latitudes. Soot and ash from these northern fires is blackening glaciers and the Greenland ice cap, causing them to melt at a faster rate.

Boreal forests store enormous amounts of carbon that megafires release. High-latitude peatlands store carbon that is released by tundra fires. Peat also stores vast amounts of mercury, which fire releases into the atmosphere. The smoke from Canadian fires travels around the entire globe.

The Anthropocene world is getting hotter and more flammable. The Trump administration shows little awareness of what is at stake.


2018 August 6

After the Fall

John Lanchester

What happened in the fall of 2008 was supposed to be impossible. No one had imagined all the credit simultaneously disappearing from everywhere, to leave the entire system teetering on the brink.

The bailout of the banks was both necessary and a disaster. Governments decided to restore order to their finances by resorting to austerity measures. We had austerity, but not for banks.

The sense that the people who caused the crisis got off scot free has been central to the story of the last ten years. The UK has had the longest period of declining real incomes in recorded economic history, and the US real median hourly income is about the same as it was in 1971. Life expectancy is falling in both countries.

There has been almost no reform of the banking system and international finance. The problem of banks that are too big to fail is more serious than it was ten years ago. The failing banks were eaten by surviving banks, some of which now have balance sheets as big as the host country's GDP.

The shadow banking system is much less regulated than formal banks. The Financial Stability Board estimates its size at $160 trillion, bigger than the entire commercial banking sector. Shadow banking played a huge role in the 2008 crash.

Financial markets today are in data centres. The overwhelming majority of financial dealing is in unsupervised over-the-counter (OTC) transactions. The Bank for International Settlements estimates the size of the OTC market at $532 trillion.

Quantitative easing (QE) is the government buying back its own debt with newly minted electronic money. People buy things with the new money and prices go up. QE has been a direct driver of inequality and of the UK housing crisis.

Studies of the global balance sheet consistently show more liabilities than assets. The difference, some $9 trillion, is hidden by rich people in tax havens. Governments could easily outlaw transactions with those territories.

The sense of a system gone wrong has led to Brexit and Trump.

German Security Nightmare

Constanze Stelzenmüller

Germans have angst again. For 40 years, they lived with the dread of instantly becoming radioactive fallout should the Cold War ever turn hot. Now NATO looks less secure.

European Nuclear Deterrence
Roderich Kiesewetter, November 2016

Germany should try to persuade nuclear powers France and Britain to provide security guarantees for all of Europe.

"The US nuclear shield and nuclear security guarantees are imperative for Europe. If the United States no longer wants to provide this guarantee, Europe still needs nuclear protection for deterrent purposes .. Europe must start planning for its own security in case the Americans sharply raise the cost of defending the continent, or if they decide to leave completely."

A European nuclear umbrella could be financed through a joint European military budget due to begin in 2019.

AR Brexiteers will resist, fearing loss of their umbilical connection to America, so France and Germany will plow ahead — then one day nuke FUK?

2018 August 5

Life 3.0

Yuval Noah Harari

In Life 3.0, Max Tegmark offers a political and philosophical map of the promises and perils of the artificial intelligence revolution. He says the real problem is with the unforeseen consequences of good AI: "A superintelligent AI will be extremely good at accomplishing its goals, and if those goals aren't aligned with ours, we're in trouble."

Tegmark's map does not give enough attention to the confluence of AI with biotechnology. This century will be shaped by the merger of infotech with biotech. AI will give us the power to hack the human organism.

Once an algorithm knows you better than you know yourself, institutions such as democratic elections and free markets become obsolete, and authority shifts from humans to algorithms. We should worry about bots that know us well enough to sell us things — apocalypse by shopping.

The creation of superintelligent AI is an event on a global level. For 4 Gy, life on Earth evolved by natural selection. Now science is about to birth new life evolving by intelligent design.

AR My 1996 novel Lifeball was centrally about this big theme. My 2010 book G.O.D. Is Great took the same theme to a more practical level. My 2013 book Coral gave the same theme a back story in human history. All this is backdrop to my long review of Harari's books Sapiens and Homo Deus.

2018 August 4

Trump Verdict: "A++"

Adam Gabbatt

At a Trump rally in Pennsylvania this week, supporters were jubilant. They see Trump cutting their taxes, keeping out immigrants, putting foreign leaders in their place — and winning.

Suzie: "A-plus, A-plus-plus .. I'm going to end up with like $300 extra this year because of what he's done. No other president has given me a dime. Thank you, president, thank you. Finally something for the working people."

Bryan: "I like the fact he wants to build a wall. Immigrants .. come in and then they get here and they get government assistance .. taking it away from people who really may need it here."

Trump took the stage — "fake, fake, disgusting news .. horrible, horrendous people" — Suzie and Bryan were overjoyed.

Phyllis: "He's putting America first .. he's putting us Americans first above other countries, which is the way it always should have been."

David: "He said grab 'em by the pussy. And I get exactly what he meant by that. Grab these countries where they're weak. Take 'em down."

AR Trump and Brexit — AA world busted.

A People's Vote

Martin Fletcher

Chuka Umunna leads the campaign for a People's Vote on Brexit. He speaks for Labour: "In terms of the debate and atmosphere within the party, things are definitely moving towards a People's Vote."

On the campaign: "You've got to have future generations at the heart of it. It's got to look and sound like the whole of Britain and not just one part of it. And it's got to be hopeful and optimistic for the future."

AR Such a campaign has also got to find a practical way to recycle millions of former Leave voters contaminated by toxic nationalist propaganda.

The decontamination could be achieved by quarantining the former Leavers while they are rinsed by the truth until the lies have been washed from their minds.

The quarantine could be implemented by assisting the passage of those who chose to go to Australia, New Zealand, or Canada, if those nations would take them.

The quarantine would impose collateral damage on all UK residents if it were implemented by subjecting the British Isles to a Brexit blockade for a few years.

A blockade could end with formal dissolution of the UK and separate applications by its constituent nations for membership of the eurozone.

The Deep State

Tim Weiner

US president Donald Trump says the deep state is out to get him.

Jack Goldsmith thinks the deep state is real and sees a return to the days of J. Edgar Hoover, who used secret information as a weapon of political warfare.

President Nixon ordered Hoover to wiretap members of the National Security Council staff and the Washington press corps. The watchlist grew to include US senators. But after Watergate in 1972, neither the FBI nor the CIA could protect the president. Hoover was dead and Nixon was doomed.

Declassified cold war documents show that secret government in the United States was not controlled by Hoover but run from the White House.

The US deep state was a phantom born of secrecy and fear.

AR Deep state — fake news!

2018 August 3

Brexit Partnership

Michel Barnier

The UK will leave the EU on 29 March 2019. We respect its sovereign decision. Our task is now to organise the disentanglement of the UK from EU institutions and policies.

We still need to agree on important points. We need to find solutions for specific British territories, such as the UK bases in Cyprus and Gibraltar. We need to make sure that Brexit does not create a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

The UK wants to leave our common regulatory area, where people, goods, services and capital move freely across national borders. These are the economic foundations on which the EU was built. These economic foundations cannot be weakened.

If we quickly find solutions to the outstanding withdrawal issues, I am sure we can build a future partnership between the EU and the UK that is unprecedented in scope and depth.

AR FUK partnership!

Just Say "Non"

Simon Nixon

Theresa May visits Emmanuel Macron today to try to persuade him to agree to a deal that will allow the UK to retain frictionless access to the EU single market in goods while operating its own trade policy and rejecting the single market in services, the free movement of people, and the direct jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.

The 1950 Schuman Declaration said France, Germany, and other willing partners should pool their sovereignty to create a European market for coal and steel to be overseen by a high authority charged with setting rules in the common interest.

Jean Monnet: "The Schuman proposals are revolutionary or they are nothing .. The indispensable first principle is the abnegation of sovereignty .. any plan which does not involve this indispensable first principle can make no useful contribution to the grave problems that face us."

The UK twice tried to join the European Community. Charles de Gaulle rejected both UK applications. Today Macron will say "Non."

AR I love EU.

2018 August 2

Fields Medalists 2018


Caucher Birkar has helped reveal that many polynomial equations can be categorized into a small number of families by a finite number of characteristics. He works in a subfield of algebraic geometry called birational geometry.

Algebraic geometry combines algebra and geometry. The set of solutions common to a group of equations is known as an algebraic variety. An infinite number of algebraic varieties exist, each with a unique geometric representation.

Birational geometry is a way of transforming algebraic varieties to classify them into birational equivalence classes. There are three broad classes: Fano varieties, Calabi−Yau varieties, and varieties of general type. Each has a different type of uniform curvature.

Perhaps all algebraic varieties can be reduced to one of the three basic types via birational transformation. Birkar explored the classification structure for varieties of general type and proved that Fano varieties form a family defined by a small number of characteristics.

Alessio Figalli used optimal transport to prove the stability of various shapes: If you increase the energy of a system like a soap bubble or a crystal by some amount, then the resulting shape will deviate from the original shape by no more than some other amount. The inequality is optimal, meaning it limits how much the extra energy distorts the shape.

Start with a perfect crystal and deform it slightly by heating. Put the cold and warm versions next to each other and consider the optimal way of moving all the material from the cold crystal into the warm one. Figalli's inequality concerned the optimal transport map between the two shapes.

Figalli next proved the regularity of the Monge−Ampère equation. Regularity means that as you gradually change the inputs to an equation, the output changes gradually too. He proved the regularity of the semigeostrophic equations used in meteorology.

Peter Scholze launched a revolution in arithmetic geometry. His new work concerns cohomology, a way to study the holes in a geometric shape. His key innovation is a class of fractal structures he calls perfectoid spaces.

Arithmetic geometry uses geometric tools to understand integer solutions to polynomial equations. For some such equations, you can look for solutions among p-adic numbers. Scholze constructed an infinite tower of number systems with the p-adic numbers at the bottom and the simplest example of a perfectoid space at the top.

Perfectoid spaces let you move questions about polynomials from the p-adic world into one where arithmetic is easier. Scholze proved a statement about the p-adic solutions to polynomials called the weight-monodromy conjecture.

Scholze expanded the scope of reciprocity laws for polynomials in modular arithmetic. The laws generalize the quadratic reciprocity law that for two primes p and q, in most cases p is a perfect square on a clock with q hours iff q is a perfect square on a clock with p hours.

The link between reciprocity laws and hyperbolic geometry is a core part of the Langlands program, a vast web of connections between number theory, geometry, and analysis. Scholze has shown how to extend the program to a wide range of structures.

Akshay Venkatesh studied generalizations of the Riemann zeta function, which maps each number s to an infinite sum. Knowing which values of s make this function equal 0 can tell us how many primes exist below any given number. The Riemann hypothesis concerns where the 0s lie.

L-functions are variants of the zeta function in which 1s in the infinite sum are replaced by something more complicated, generally a mix of positive and negative terms. Each L-function has its own version of the Riemann hypothesis.

The generalized Riemann hypotheses imply subconvexity: roughly, the positive and negative numbers in the sequence of numerators of an L-function quickly start balancing each other out. Subconvexity estimates for L-function can help find patterns in the integers.

Venkatesh used ideas from dynamical systems to solve the subconvexity problem in great generality. He found subconvexity estimates for a huge family of L-functions.

2018 August 1

European Nightmare

Paul Goodman

Boris Johnson was largely written up as a poor foreign secretary, all mouth and no trousers. Four weeks ago, he was fifth in our party leadership poll. Today he is top again, scooping the best part of a third of the vote.

In a ballot of Conservative party members in a ballot, Johnson would likely win it. And the winner of a Tory leadership election, if held when the party is in government, becomes prime minister.

His unequivocal support for Brexit has been divisive. But there is a case for believing that if Brexit is to be done at all, someone who believes in it should take charge.

Johnson remains the only senior British politician with Churchillian projection and uplift.

AR Thus unfolds a nightmare of biblical proportions.

Climate Crisis

Paul Hockenos

The climate crisis is upon us. We must stave off the destruction of civilization as we know it.

This is mainstream opinion among serious scientists worldwide. Soon it will be too late to shift course away from our failing trajectory.

Scientists see climate change as the consequence of burning fossil fuel. Technology that can replace fossil fuels is already in use and is enough for us to go completely green in the near future.

A global transition to renewable electricity with a full decarbonization of the electricity system is possible by 2050. Germany turned 40% of its electricity renewable in 15 years and prospered with the renewables surge. Norway and Iceland already run almost completely on renewable energy. Denmark plans to convert fully to renewable energy by 2050.

As individuals, we can curb our consumption and make our lifestyles sustainable. As citizens, we have to force our leaders to tackle the industrial giants whose fortunes are tied up in fossil fuels.

Global warming has hit home for all of us in 2018.

AR Americans: Endorse the Paris accord.

What Would Winston Do?

Boris Johnson recalls Winston Churchill as he confronts today's challenges: my review

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